Spring tasks: plant nutrition

We’ve had some unseasonably cold nights but our team has finally been able to start fertilizer application!

The amount of fertilizer we apply to each bed is determined by variety, soil conditions, and past practices, requiring constant evaluation of current conditions, history, and trends. Nutritional needs are also different for young vines as opposed to established plantings. Additional nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit.

The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the team bases their decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. According to cranberries.org: “Cranberry plant demand for nitrogen is highest during three stages of the lifecycle critical to cranberry development–early growth, fruit set and bud set. Early growth is when the plant grows vegetatively through vining and root growth and produces a flush of new leaves. Fruit set is when the flower becomes pollinated and fruit begin to form. Soon after fruit set comes bud set when nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.”

Downstown flew for the first time here this year on Wednesday, so it feels like the growing season has officially started now,” says Mike Haines. “They flew in some fertilizer on some young beds, and also applied some slow release fertilizer to some newer plantings that we wanted to give an extra boost to. Besides that, we are expanding our use of the boom this year, and will be using it to apply fertilizer to the Stump beds, which are new Demoranville beds we planted last year. They were built specifically with the boom in mind, 200 feet across. I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.”

Water drawdown – 2020

Spring has arrived and it’s time to start removing the winter flood! We’ve said it so often you can probably recite it with us by now: good water management is absolutely critical to growing cranberries. Growers rely on a clean, abundant supply to maintain the bogs year round. The key question, as everyone here knows by heart, is “Where is the water coming from, and where do you want it to go?”

Once the harvest is over, the bogs are flooded in order to protect the cranberry vines from the winter weather. When the warmer weather sets in, the bogs are drained so that the dormant vines awaken for the growing season; while cranberries are most frequently harvested using the “wet pick” method, they do not actually grow under water and thus need to go through the same growing cycle as any other fruit crop. The process, which we call “dumping water” is deceptively simple: a team member takes a gate hook (pictured below) and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are removed in a specific pattern to work with gravity and the natural flow of the water.) Once the boards have been pulled and placed on top of the gate, the water moves to the next bog along the ditches. This water returns to the reservoirs and canals in order to be reused for the next part of the cycle. It takes about 24 hours to drain completely.

After the water comes off, a crew will install sprinklers (if they haven’t been installed already) and makes sure the irrigation systems are 100% by turning on the system and letting it run for a while. Then they’ll clean out the nozzles, see where we need to make repairs, and turn the system back on to make sure the repairs worked.

Running the system for a bit also helps the team make sure that any potential engine problems are taken care of by the Facilities/Equipment team. It’s important for this to be done as soon as possible for frost protection. Typically, a cranberry bog is built at a lower level than the land immediately surrounding it and the bog temperature can drop ten to fifteen degrees lower than the uplands. These conditions make monitoring bog temperature a top priority once the winter water comes off, which is why installing sprinklers quickly and efficiently is so important.

“Things are a little different this year with COVID-19,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We had a late start, so we focused on putting systems in and re-flooding. One, to help with frost nights, and two, because a few of the guys on the frost team are delayed due to virus precautions. We usually get five to six systems done in a day but because we were delayed, our team worked late and was able to get eight to thirteen systems in a day to get us back on track. So we’ve been doing a lot more taking off water and putting it back on. We have plenty of water and wells; now we just need to get everything re-flooded within a few days.”

Once it’s all done, everything should be on track for the cold nights still to come!