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!

Winter flood removal – 2017

It’s finally time to start the water drawdown!

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 and removes the boards that have been placed across the gate in the bog. (The boards are usually 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, and takes about 24 hours to drain completely.

This year, the team has made some changes. “The timing plus the pattern is different this year,” says supervisor Gerardo Ortiz. “The final section we took off last year is the first one we removed this year because of the 2017 renovation.”

“Yeah, we’re doing things a little differently,” says Operations Manager Matt Giberson. “We’re trying to get a jump start on the reno, since planting a bog in spring gives us an additional year of growing time. So we started up at the top of the farm this time, just because there was so much water in there that usually comes into the bogs planned for this year’s reno. The sooner it dries out, the sooner Steve [Manning, Bog Renovation Manager] can things rolling.” The team’s goal is to finish five systems a day, to be done by the 21st.

As we prepare for the next process, which is frost protection, our reservoirs are keeping our most valuable resource safe and ready for use!

Winter flood

The cranberry growing season lasts from April to November; the fruiting buds mature during the winter dormancy period. During the dormant season, severe winter weather could harm or even kill cranberry vines, which is why growers must take preventative measures to protect their crop. Now that the harvest is over, cranberry growers everywhere have started their winter flooding. Under normal conditions, the temperature steadily drops post-harvest; it is important to wait until the vines go dormant before starting to put the water on. When vines go dormant, they turn burgundy in color:

Our winter flood program starts with making sure the water in the reservoirs is at the pre-determined level according to our process. If there has no been significant rain to get the reservoirs to flooding level, we start our wells. We will continue to use the wells to maintain the reservoirs and the stream needed to get the bogs flooded.

The next step is placing boards in the gates to start bringing the water level up in the bogs, much like we do to prep for the flooding at harvest in the fall. Matt Giberson, one of our newer team members who has been learning to work with the water, says, “There’s a lot to know. How the water works, where it’s coming from, where it has to go, how to move it the most efficient way. Fred [Pine Island’s GM] says to me all the time, ‘You’re not going to learn how to do this overnight.'” In practice, this means constant awareness and monitoring of where the water is coming from, where it is going, and how much stream is coming down.

Flooding starts by letting in streams from the reservoirs to canals and bogs. Strategic board placement (more boards in the southernmost bogs to catch the water) will get the ditches high and running down to start flooding from the bottom up.

As the water level in the bogs begins to rise, our team begins adjusting the water level in the bogs by adding boards where they are needed. Once the vines are covered and the stream has settled, we adjust the level of the reservoirs to maintain the stream and keep the bogs flooded for the winter. Wells are shut down once bogs are flooded, and only turned on again if it is dry and reservoir levels are dropping.

It is also necessary to make sure we are not losing water anywhere. “Sometimes you can hear the water coming through a gate that’s supposed to hold it,” Matt says. “It’s the same as running diesel fuel; it’s a big waste, and we need to try to stop it or slow it down.” He does this by adding sand or even grass in front of the leaking boards, as sometimes the sand can wash away too quickly.

As part of Pine Island’s philosophy of continuous improvement, we have borrowed a new system for checking bog levels from a neighboring grower to see how it works for us.

First, the sensor is attached to a flood gate. It runs on solar power, so we do not need to use more fuel or electricity out on the bogs.

The cord is carefully fed into the water until the sensor tape is at the level we want the bog to reach. Once it reaches the tape, the sensor will trigger a phone call to whoever is in charge of checking the water to let them know that the bog is at the ideal level, so that they can go and slow down the stream coming into the bog.. Gerardo Ortiz thinks it’s going to be a big help; he received a call telling him that the water level dropped significantly. When he went to check the bog, he noticed a board had come loose; he was able to catch the water we were losing faster than if he had waited until his next round.

Once we are flooded, our team needs to constantly monitor the bogs to make sure there are no leaks, that the water level remains steady, and that the stream remains constant. The weather is also a factor: no rain for a long period of time will shrink the reservoirs and wells may need to be started to maintain the water level in the bogs. Matt says, “If it gets cold enough for the water to freeze, I also need to check to see if I have to break any ice to keep the stream flowing, especially on the southeast gates.”

We say often that water management is the key to growing cranberries, and the winter flood is one of the major components. Our team is, as always, prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure things are done when they need to be done to protect our crop for the winter and for the future.