Cranberry News: Vasanna variety

Cranberries have very specific needs regarding soil, water, and nutrition, among other things, and the research team at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry & Cranberry Research are always hard at work helping cranberry growers address those needs. In recent years, they have developed several new varieties to increase yield per acre, combat disease, and improve color.

Pine Island is starting to see some nice results from one new variety we planted back in 2015, and there’s exciting news on the horizon for growers in other regions: the Vasanna variety!

According to Rutgers, qualities for Vasanna include yields to over 500 barrels/acre in British Columbia and Wisconsin, low fruit rot, higher berry weight, and mid-season TAcy (color measurement). It should do well in most areas, and particularly well in the typical soil conditions in moderate oceanic climates, such as Oregon, Wisconsin, & British Columbia.

There’s a wonderful story to the Vasanna name, as well, and it means a lot to one particular Rutgers scientist. From Fruit Growers News:

Rutgers University cranberry breeder Nicholi Vorsa named his latest release, Vasanna, in memory of his parents, Vas and Anna. Immigrants from Belarus, they had few resources but encouraged him and his brother to finish their doctorate degrees.

“They saw it as a road to success in this country,” said Vorsa. “I was featured in the New York Times once – it was my early years at Rutgers. My father was very proud of that.”

That the Vorsa family was even able to immigrate was extremely fortunate. Vorsa said his grandfather, Damian, was once a cooper with as many as 20 apprentices who helped him build barrels, casks and even water towers for small villages – but the family members were historically were “White Russians” or anti-communists, he said, and grandfather Damian spent time in the Soviet Union’s gulag. The family was blocked from immigrating for years during the USSR’s Josef Stalin regime, arriving in the United States in 1952, Vorsa said.

In an interview with News 12, Nick says, “They were fortunate to get out after the war and come to the U.S. My grandmother was an avid gardener. I was amazed at the variety of tomatoes she had. And that spawned my interest in this area.”

The NJ cranberry industry, and indeed, the industry as a whole, are grateful to be the beneficiaries of that early interest. . .and fortunate to have such strength and resiliency in our community.

Waiting game

As we move into the late summer, we are continuing to implement our PIICM program with late fertilizer applications (or, bud set fertilizer), finishing cleaning the ditches for improved water flow, and maintaining the balancing act of keeping vines cool while avoiding oversaturation. At this time of year, we need to be careful for next year’s bud set (initiation of next year’s flower growth). During bud set, we’re more concerned with keeping the vines healthy; nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.

The berries themselves are beginning to size up and attain color. Some varieties color earlier than others, and that is a factor we consider when planning our picking strategy. Ocean Spray likes a consistent color, so we will take samples to the receiving station to check the TAcy number (an acronym for “total anthocyanin concentration” and is a unit of color measurement used in a cranberry) before harvesting. While the humidity gets worse in late summer, the nights tend to get cooler, and this actually improves the color.

While we’ve talked a lot about the new Rutgers varieties when discussing planting and bog renovation, they are not the only varieties we grow at Pine Island. Many of our bogs still contain the industry stand-bys: Stevens, Early Blacks, and Ben Lear.

The Stevens variety accounts for 20% of the berries grown in New Jersey, according to the Cranberry Marketing Committee. A later variety (meaning they attain their full color later in the season), Stevens are usually the last to be harvested and are thus more susceptible to scald and rot, so we need to monitor bogs such as Roundhouse (one of our Stevens bogs at the northern end of the farm) carefully. Another interesting fact about Stevens: the majority of the crop in a Stevens bog is located under the canopy (or surface) of the vines.

The next stop on our tour was 28 Acre, one of our Early Black producers. Early Blacks are one of the oldest and the smallest varieties, but have the most intense color. (Jeremy Fenstermaker, a Pine Island foreman and harvest supervisor, likes to think that Early Blacks are the berries appearing in most commercials due to their photogenic quality.) When we harvest an Early Black bog we like to see as many berries as possible; the greater the weight, the greater the yield (one barrel = 100 pounds of cranberries).

Ben Lears are an early variety noted for its size and distinctive shape, with a deep red color about midway between Stevens and Early Blacks. We will usually start our harvest with Ben Lear bogs.

Our primary focus as we continue to monitor and scout the bogs is weed control. Dewberry is a very persistent plant that competes with cranberries for light and interferes with harvest, so removing it is a high priority task.

As always, we continuously monitor weather conditions, especially as hurricane season reaches its peak. And, all of our efforts throughout the growing season are bringing us toward our ultimate goal: a successful harvest.