Frost – 2019

One of the toughest things cranberry growers do is managing springtime frost conditions. In the spring, there is a danger to the crop when the temperature drops. 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. It’s no exaggeration to say there would be no crop if we didn’t watch for frost on the bogs.

The first step is monitoring the temperature. Each bog has a thermometer (usually located in the coldest section) that requires frequent checking throughout the first part of the night. Once the temperature drops to between 33 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the stage of growth), it’s time to turn on the pumps. More than forty years ago we used to flood the bogs to prevent frost damage; we now use sprinklers instead. When the water from the sprinklers freezes on the vines, it controls the temperature well enough to keep them from harm. It’s also necessary to check the surrounding reservoirs and canals to make sure that the water supply is sufficient to supply the pumps. That can take some time, and doesn’t always need to be done all at once. Depending on location and conditions–is the bog surrounded by woods? Where is the wind coming from? Is the sky clear or overcast?–some will be started earlier than others.

In recent years we’ve moved to an automation process to make this easier on our team, with a combination of automated and analog thermometers for optimal monitoring. The automated thermometer gives us the initial indication that the temperature is dropping. When it hits the first threshold, it sends the notification, and that’s when members of the frost team head out to look at the analog thermometers.

Holding the winter flood until later in the month means that we’ve not had many frost night yet, says Gerardo Ortiz. “We went out one night this week around 3 A.M. It hasn’t been too bad. There’s a chance Saturday night and definitely Sunday is going to be one of the coldest night we’ve had. It’s going to be an early night and a long one, I think. We’ll see how it goes!”

Water drawdown – 2019

Spring is here for good, which means 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.

“We had a lot of water this year and the reservoirs were really high,” says Matt Giberson. “So we decided to do an early draw on some systems, put the sprinklers in, and then re-flooded so we could prevent running frost early as well as focus on some other tasks, particularly the latest renovations. We’re slowly taking it all off now for good and will be finished by late next week or early the following week.”

That early draw does present some challenges, especially with repairs, since you can’t repair sprinklers when they’re underwater. 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. “The team in charge of repairs will need to do a little more now that all the water is coming off after the early draw, but we have plenty of guys available for that; it all works out!” Matt says.

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.

Once it’s all done, everything should be on track for the cold nights coming up!

Water drawdown – 2018

Spring finally appears to be hanging in there, which means 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.

“We started the early draw the last week of March, but we decided to put it back on again in some of the Crimson Queen beds,” says Matt Giberson. “We decided we’re going to leave those on later this year, due to issues last year with them getting overripe. But the TAcy was right where it we needed to be so we thought we’d leave the water on to help with rot prevention.” (TAcy is an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry.) The drawdown started in earnest on the first of April. “We’re shooting for 6 to 7 systems a day by the 25th because we’re going to start planting Cedar Swamp on the 23rd,” Matt says. He’s also trying to balance the needs of the frost team: “I’m trying to keep the focus on the home farm and leave Sim Place till last,” he says. “Sim Place is always a cold spot, so if we don’t have to make someone drive over there for frost I feel better. This week we’re working on the center of the home farm and west of Route 563 this week, and from there we’ll hit the systems at Red Road and Caley before we move on to Sim Place.”

After the water comes off, team member Waldy Blanco goes out with his crew to install sprinklers and make 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.

Right now, the weather appears to be cooperating, and everything seems to be on track for the cold nights coming up in the next week or so!

Preparing for spring 2018

The weather sure likes to keep things interesting around here! Just two weeks ago we were experiencing an early spring, but this week we ended up shoveling several inches of snow. Nevertheless, spring should actually arrive for real before too long, and our team is getting prepared!

First, though, they have to do some clean-up. “A lot of tree branches came down during those last two storms,” says Matt Giberson. “So we’ve been clearing all that out.” The weather also, unfortunately, put a hold on sanding, but the team is very nearly finished! “We have two, two and a half days left,” Matt says. “We’re taking advantage of the time change to work a little later next week to finish it up. We would have been done today, if the weather had cooperated, but unfortunately it did not!”

Once that’s finished, though, the team will take advantage of the location. “Once we’re done, we’re going to patch up some dams that need work over at Sim Place, since we’ll have all the equipment we’ll need for that over there already. In the meantime, we’ll bring the sanding barges back and move on to installing gates up at the Cedar Swamp renovation.”

We’ll also be taking off the water before too long! “We’ll have a small crew doing early draw this year,” Matt says. “The plan is to do two to three systems a day to get ahead of that, concentrating on the young beds that we’re not going to frost protect this year. The priority will be getting Cedar Swamp ready to go so we can get the planting started. The earlier we plant, the earlier we get a head start on the growing season.”

As far as the established beds are concerned, the last two days of March the team will be installing the sprinklers before starting to take the rest of the water off the first week of April. “I haven’t done the numbers yet, but we’re shooting for four to five systems a day,” says Matt. “We’re not doing anything too unusual, but we have a lot of work ahead of us!”

The team has a busy spring planned, but there’s no doubt they’ll do whatever it takes to get it all done. And don’t forget, if you want to join them, we’re still looking for an ICM foreman!

Current growth stages

Things have been a little quiet around Pine Island Cranberry this week, but as CEO Bill Haines says, “That’s the way we like it!”

The last of the water comes off today right on schedule, which means the sprinkler installation will also be done. We’ve also had very little frost so far, which is good, but: “It hasn’t been really warm or sunny either,” Bill says. “Mike [Haines] and his team are out scouting and we’ll start the roughneck fertilizer once the buds break, but nothing’s broken yet.”

“Vanessa, Jeremy, and I have just been walking a lot of the established bogs,” Mike Haines says. “There’s not much to see right now; in most of the beds the buds are just swelling a little bit. There hasn’t been too much growth since the water’s only come off recently.” The Boricua system has the plants that are farthest along: “It’s probably partly the variety–those beds are planted with Crimson Queen and they tend to go a little earlier–and partly that it was the first system where we took the water off.”

The weather has also been cooperative. “It hasn’t rained in a while and that’s okay; we’ve got plenty of water,” Bill says. “We’ve had very little frost so far, which is good. Once the beds start to grow, frost will get more intense, but so far it‘s been a good spring.”

Elsewhere things are also moving along. It’s not time yet for fertilizer, and the shop team is busy making adjustments to the buggy for use in liquid nutrition application. The team is also finding that sanding went well! Sometimes after the water comes off, we discover the sand’s too heavy in some areas, and team members have to use a rake to pull the vines through. But there’s very little of that this year. “It’s opened up the canopy a little, so we’re glad,” Bill says.

In the meantime, the team will continue to scout for growth and wait for the weather to warm up!

Fairy ring treatments – 2016

This week, our team finished our yearly treatment for fairy ring. Fairy ring is a persistent issue for growers, and we work very closely with researchers to find solutions.

“We start treatment at the roughneck stage,” says Matt Giberson, “and stop once we start seeing a lot of flower out there. It can be a little tricky; we don’t put on an application after a long frost night, or heavy rain, because too much water can stress the soil.” Treatments are planned very carefully. “Mike [Haines] and I go over the top producing bogs that aren’t marked for renovation, and set priorities. We start with Ben Lears first, because they bloom the fastest, and then go into the Stevens bogs. Once we’ve made the plan, we give Blondie, Alejandro, Tito, and Albert the maps and send them out. It takes two crews to get everything done, but they’re really hustling.”

A great deal of our knowledge comes from research being conducted by the Rutgers Marucci Center. Dr. Peter Oudemans has ongoing fairy ring experiments on some of Pine Island’s established beds. “What we’re doing with the experiment is looking at different treatments, especially different rates, to see which ones will control the disease best,” Peter says. “So on the one bog, we’re looking at one specific treatment, and we’re looking at different rates for the treatment and different rates of water. Because the fungus is in the organic layers beneath the sand, we need to figure out how much it takes to move the applications to the right position. We did some studies to look at how much water will it take to get to the correct depth, and what we found out is that .2 gallons per square foot is probably the minimum that we can use. Which is kind of what we found from our soil moisture probes as well. We’re starting to see some control at those levels.” The other bog, he says, is being used to test other treatments. However, he says, “we’re looking at two problems. First: how do you measure success? Because those plots are big and hard to evaluate. So we’re using drones to evaluate the progress. We measure once a month, to see if there’s any change in amount. It’s been pretty useful to measure it that way; we can capture data in fifteen minutes, evaluate progress over time, and capture it through the summer.”

“The other problem is, what can we expect from fairy ring control?” he says. “Fairy ring already messes up the canopy. It kills the edge, but then it leaves the center as a scar on the bed and also reduces yield. But talking with Dan [Schiffhauer ]and Joan [Davenport], we came up with some possible treatments for the centers of those rings to help them recover and help with the scarring, such as slow release fertilizers.”

Fairy ring has been a persistent problem in the local cranberry industry for a long time, and it’s been tricky to address, even with all the hard work from researchers. Manager Mike Haines remembers tracking in in 2008 during his summers home from college. “The best thing is not having to deal with it in the first place,” he says. “That’s a huge focus when we assign a bog for renovation. A lot of the time, the beds you’re renovating are the old ones being torn up by fairy ring, so you don’t want that problem to recur. You want to do it all right from the beginning. Attention to detail in renovation and thinking about it thoroughly and critically are important so you can avoid having to do all this stuff later.”

On to the next!

Pine Island Cranberry is ready for spring! Our team has hit our sanding target, and even finished a little ahead! Sanding is a procedure which helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

CEO Bill Haines is pleased with this year’s effort. “We found it was necessary to go back to our aggressive sanding approach. In the long run, it really helps our crop. So we tackled 361 acres, which is more than we’ve ever tackled in one year before. Matt [Giberson] and his team did a great job getting it done on time. In fact, they even got it done a little early.”

The water has already come off the young bogs, and our team is getting ready to take the winter flood off the established beds shortly.

Bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and there’s a lot to do before we start planting in the early fall! “As of right now, we’re moving a lot of sand,” says bog reno manager Steve Manning. “We’re putting sand down, widening dams for the tractor trailers, and pouring the concrete bases for the pumps.” They’re also beginning to install gates. Things are moving right along. . .now we just need the weather to cooperate!