Joan Davenport – Summer 2018

Our team just finished another productive follow-up visit with soil scientist Dr. Joan Davenport! Joan comes to see us in the spring during the bloom period and again in the height of summer to discuss fertilizer needs for bud set. Joan looks at hook, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the amount and color of old leaves, including looking for leaves from two growing seasons ago.

Additional plant 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. This time of year we look for recommendations for bud set fertilizer as we have to make sure the plants have enough to maintain the fruit as it finishes sizing up before harvest, but also that the plants set buds for next year’s crop. With a perennial crop, we’re always thinking about this year and the next; all the years are related.

“At this point in the growing season, we are evaluating the plants to complete the grown season and support next year’s crop,” Joan says. “To do this, I look at the crop load, the presence and quantity of buds, the length and color of the new upright growth, and the color of last growing season’s leaves. This season’s new leaves should be green and the old (last year’s) leaves just starting to turn pale. Larger crop loads indicate higher nitrogen demand. There should be visible buds and few to no uprights actively growing, plus few to no runners present.”

“Joan’s recommendations this time are pretty consistent,” says Mike Haines. “That feels really good, because I think it means we did a good job keeping everything consistent and giving the beds what they needed through the season so that we just need to put the finishing touches on. I’m happy about that; it had looked good, so it’s good to get the confirmation from Joan.”

Planting – July 2018

Pine Island has finished the planting for the year, and everything went very well! “We planted approximately 25 acres in May and about another 25 at the beginning of July,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “I think that’s going to be about what we currently planned for next year’s planting, as well.”

There are two methods of planting: conventional propagation, which means pressing mowed vines or prunings directly into the bogs to be established; and rooted cuttings, which means planting plants with roots already established. Pine Island has used both methods in the past, but mainly we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings. Another concern with planting is implementing an irrigation program, both with ground water and sprinklers, that provides moisture for vine growth without causing excessive soil saturation, which can lead to favorable conditions for phytopthora, which in turn can lead to fruit or root rot. Pine Island uses both ditches and sprinklers for irrigation. During the early spring, after the winter flood is removed, irrigation is usually covered by our frost protection program. However, concerns for adequate soil moisture should not be forgotten during frost season. Several warm, sunny days without rain or frost irrigation can result in the need for irrigation. Checking the soil yourself is extremely important; tensiometers are good, but it’s important to learn the hands-on method, as well.

The process remains the same: rooted cuttings are taken from the cart and loaded onto the planter. Team members seated on the planter drop the vines into the carousel and then the vines are distributed into the pre-dug furrow. The planter is followed by other crew members, who make sure that the vines have been placed correctly. Running the planting operation is a true challenge: coordinating everything, getting the right plants at the right time with the right people, constantly adjusting the planters, and identifying problems and how to fix them.

“Planting went really well this year,” Bryan says. “We’re continuing to learn and finding some better ways to do things, as well as making adjustents to try next year.” For instance, instead of dropping the empty plant trays along the route and having someone come along to do clean-up, this year we built a basket for the front of the tractor so when the team done with the trays, they’re all in one place and at the end of the row the trays are removed, which saves the team some time.

Planned changes for next year include working on the irrigation installation. “We continue to struggle with the timing,” Bryan says. “We usually install the Webster valves ahead of time so we can pull them out, plant, and put them back in so we can water the new beds. But it’s inevitable that the planter hits some of them, so next year we’re going to try installing after we finish the planting. That’ll mean more people, though, so we’ll see.”

Other than that, he says, “it was pretty much steady as she goes! Matt Stiles normally manages the planting but this year he had Mike Scullion as a trainee. Going forward, Mike will probably be managing that team, which is a good thing.” The main drawback was the weather, but the team made adjustments as necessary. “It was really tough with the heat,” Bryan says. “We were getting 95 and 96 degree days, so we’d start at 5 and end at 2:30 to beat it a little, but that takes a toll on anyone!”

Summer with the sixth generation!

Jack Fenstermaker, son of bog designer Jeremy Fenstermaker and grandson of Pine Island CEO Bill Haines, starts high school in September but is spending his summer learning some of the basics of cranberry growing!

Jack started with us about two weeks ago and has been keeping busy ever since! “I’ve helped my dad with the layout of some dams and I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up around the gates and stuff,” Jack says. “I’ve been on the planter, too! That took a long time. It was pretty cool to watch though!” His favorite part was being able to walk behind the planter to make sure that the rooted cuttings were placed correctly. “Today I’m carrying a bucket around in the bogs so that I can pick up any of the trash left over from planting. It’s pretty easy! It just takes a long time.”

“Jack’s getting a lot of stuff done that might not get done if he wasn’t here,” his dad says. “The energy he’s got is pretty good, he doesn’t stop once he gets started. He’s doing really well; I’m impressed at his work ethic at only 13.” Jack goes out with his dad at 5:00 A.M. and goes until about 2:30 in the afternoon along with the rest of the planting crew in order for the team to avoid the worst of the heat. “It’s an early day but you get out early so it’s better,” Jack says. “I can go home for lunch, and I get a snack break too. It’s fifteen minutes but my dad tries to say it’s only ten!”

“He seems to be very into it,” says bog renovations manager Steve Manning. “He had fun with the other kids, especially on the planter. They all did a great job.” And apparently Jack is already looking forward to increased responsibility: “He told me he can’t wait to drive a bigger truck, and even tried to get his dad to let him drive the little excavator.” His dad said no, incidentally, but keep an eye out for future developments!

“It’s great to have Jack here this summer,” says his grandfather Bill. “He’s fun to have around, he’s doing a good job, and I like his energy and his enthusiasm. It’s great to have another generation on board.”

Bees! – June 2018

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

Timing is key; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating. This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA.

Traditionally we place two bee colonies per acre every spring, but manager Mike Haines has some ideas about that for future growing seasons. “The growers out in Wisconsin are really knowledgeable about bees, right down to knowing the different types of honey bees. Some of them are using 5 to 7 colonies per acre, which I’d never heard of before. They’re big proponents of the idea and say if you increase the number of pollinator visits, it leads to bigger fruit. I’m intrigued by that and would like to experiment. It’s expensive, but they must see a benefit.”

We don’t rely entirely on our hard-working beekeepers; native pollinators such as bumblebees are also valuable to us, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants!