Harvest prep – 2019

Harvest is only about a month away, and our team is making sure we’re more than ready!

We’re getting everything sharpened up on the farm right now; the team is working on both the chores that we need to get done and those that we like to get done. It’s always nice to have the farm tidy and ready beforehand.

The ditches surrounding every bog must be kept free of debris in order to ensure adequate water flow for both flooding and drainage. Cleaning the ditches is important for two reasons. First, it helps maintain the proper moisture level in the soil. Second, and most importantly, removing water from the bogs quickly is urgent in case of a big rain event.

It is important to make sure all of the equipment has been properly maintained well in advance of the harvest: the boom, boom reels, harvesters, et cetera. The boom is taken out and checked for any repairs that need to be made, and so is the reel. The harvesters are brought in and serviced at our shop. We also look over and repair as needed the blowers, trucks, and tractors for each harvesting crew and ensure we have all the tools and safety supplies necessary to get us through harvest.

“We’ve done everything we can at this point and hoping for the best,” says CEO Bill Haines. “Talk to me again in November and I’ll let you know how we made out!”

Planting – Summer 2019

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.

“We target to start planting in early spring to provide more time in the growing season,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “With the amount we plant and the logistics of renovation and the significant draw on resources, we usually have two to three planting periods: early spring, early summer, and mid to late summer to get the yearly renovation planted. These periods coincide with very busy times on the farm, so we work hard to balance all resources.”

This year, as expected, we planted about 50 acres; some with Mullica Queen and some with Haines, both of which have been yielding good results for us.

ACGA Summer Field Day – 2019

This week several Pine Island Cranberry team members attended the annual American Cranberry Growers Association (ACGA) summer field day at the Rutgers extension center. While several topics are similar to those discussed at the winter meeting, the field day is a chance to go out and explore the researchers’ valuable work first hand!

Jeremy Fenstermaker:

It was nice catching up with everybody, as always! I enjoyed the talk about the winter flooding; that was interesting. The sanding experiment was something I’ve been thinking about for a while, so it was nice seeing the results of that.

Justin Ross:

I think there are some really neat things coming soon with the use of gene sequencing. Hopefully we will see this speed up the development of of new varieties. James and Nick are doing great work.

Altogether, another successful field day! Thank you to the entire staff at the Marucci Center for all of your hard work in putting it together.

Summer weather

While we continue to keep a weather eye on the…er, weather, Pine Island is fortunate to have been spared the worst of the recent storms.

Over the past month or so, we’ve received an average of about an inch of rain a week, which is a pleasant surprise compared to how the rest of the region has been faring.

Too much rain can have a negative effect on pollination as well as fertilizer application, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised; while there was some concern about the bee colonies during the bloom period due to frequent storms, for the most part we got through it. And while there have been a few days when winds or early morning rains have held up fertilizer applications, mostly Downstown has been able to fly.

While we’ve been lucky so far, our team will continue to carefully monitor weather conditions as the growing season progresses, and hope that things dry out well before this year’s harvest.

Heat wave – 2019

Bloom is almost over, we’re starting to remove the bees, and now our team is looking at the first real stretch of hot days this summer.

Once the fruit is formed, post-bloom, it’s important to keep them from what we term “scalding”. Scald occurs when the temperature is high but the dew point (humidity) is low; as Dr. Peter Oudemans at the Marucci Center likes to say, “When people are comfortable, the cranberries are in trouble.”

Cranberries need about an inch of water each week during the growing season (either via rain or irrigation), preferably early in the morning or at night, in order to avoid losing it to evaporation. We irrigate for two reasons: first, to keep the vines healthy and productive, and second, to protect them from the heat. Keeping them cool helps protect the bloom, the fruit, and the vines themselves.

When humidity is low, applied water will readily evaporate and cool the fruit. During the day, if temperatures get up to around 95 degrees, we will turn on the irrigation in order to cool the bog down to the 80s. We’ll run the pumps for about an hour or two, depending on variables such as wind, temperature, and humidity. There is also a distinct difference between sending water through the root system and keeping the bog cool. The trick is avoiding complications from too much moisture, which can cause conditions that are welcoming to fungi such as phytophthora, which causes root rot.

Vines shouldn’t be damp all the time; it’s a balancing act to keep the fruit at optimum growth conditions while avoiding oversaturation. The key to walking the tightrope is constant evaluation and always being aware of bog conditions.

Bees – June 2019

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.

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!

There was some concern that all of the recent rain might have an adverse effect on the colonies, but we were spared the worst of the recent storms and manager Mike Haines isn’t too worried. “I called Dan [Schiffhauer] because I was worried a little about the weather. Yesterday morning it wasn’t raining, but it was warm and humid and I thought they’d be out there. All I saw were bumblebees. But Dan said they’re sensitive to pressure changes from storms coming and in those circumstances might stay close to the colony. By the afternoon they were working like crazy; as long as I see fruit setting, and I have, then they’re doing the work.”

“We’re counting our blessings we didn’t get hit too hard like we have in the past,” Mike says. “As far as the bees go, they’re working when they can; as long as we get a few more good days in there, we’ll do fine as far as pollination is concerned.”