Going to sleep

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. 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:

Per the UMass Cranberry Station:

The signal to enter dormancy is most likely a combination of low temperatures and short days.

The dormant state lasts until the plant has been exposed to sufficient ‘chilling hours’ — hours of temperatures between 32ºF and 45ºF to complete the dormant cycle. In common with other perennial fruit crops, the cranberry plants must accumulate a critical number of chilling units in order to break dormancy in the spring and initiate flowering for the new season.

While we are waiting for the plants to complete this process so that we can begin the annual winter flood, our team is continuing to work on cleaning out interior ditches (better for drainage) and pest management (putting up swan string).

And, of course, we continue to work with our most important resource: our water supply.

March storms

Every year, we post an update about looking forward to spring, and it seems like every year, the first week of spring arrives via snowstorm!

The most recent nor’easter to come through this area left us without power for two days, but had the power not come back today, our team was prepared, thanks to the thunderstorms from June 2015!

Our winter storm prep remains basically the same every year: the number one priority is checking the water. The team checks for washouts, makes sure nothing’s too high or too low, and makes sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members make sure the main pathways are cleared; in order to do that, we send the front loaders home with some of them, which means once the snow hits, they can plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the rest of the team are able to go check the water or get to one of our facilities to do indoor work.

That means the Equipment/Facilities team also takes some precautionary measures, making sure those generators are ready to go in case we lose power for an extended amount of time. They also make sure the heat is turned up in any vacant properties onsite, just in case. “We also pack the shop with equipment to work on,” manager Louis Cantafio said last year. “That way, we don’t have to dig it out, or start it in the cold, or fill the shop with melting snow. We go over all the loaders, make sure they’re ready to go before the operators bring them home.” Then, once the storm hits “we have to get all the egresses open and get rid of snow everywhere we need to store incoming deliveries.”

Fortunately, the power outage didn’t last too long this time, and the snow seems to be melting quickly! Could this end of this long winter finally be in sight?

February spring

February has definitely been an interesting month for Pine Island. In addition to celebrating a spectacular Super Bowl outcome (the Eagles won the Super Bowl, in case you hadn’t heard) there’s been a patch of unseasonably warm weather.

“Warm weather in February doesn’t affect our crop too much,” says Matt Giberson. “We’re seeing some trees budding, though, and it’s really having an effect on the wildlife. Louis opened all the doors in the shop the other morning, and as Mike, Steve, Jeremy, & I were going over the plan for the day, a big frog hopped in and headed over to us like he owned the place.” Steve apparently sent him on his way, but as of this morning, the frog has yet to send in a completed job application.

In addition to the frogs, there have also been several turtles on the move; they might even get to where they’re going by the time spring actually arrives. And while many birds have become more active, we haven’t seen much of our eagles lately.

(We have, however, been keeping up on our Eagles. Who won the Super Bowl, by the way.)

A warm week with little to no wind has also been a great opportunity for our team to do some prescribed burning, which Mike Haines helped with for the first time and found really interesting. “It’s been kind of wet, but it hasn’t rained for a little while and Matt said that conditions were good,” Mike says. “We started burning some pieces that have been done on a consistent basis so it wouldn’t be too intense, which is a good chance to learn. The fire can get big if it hasn’t been done for a while. We started roadside over by the Turf reservoir and then burned a couple of places in the woods by Weymouth and Bluetta.” While some of this is to control the amount of fuel on the ground in case of wildfire, we also do this kill the briars in this particular section, as they can get into the bogs and carry fairy ring. (Fairy ring is not to be confused with actual jewelry, such as a Super Bowl ring, for example. It’s tough to fight–much like the Eagles defense–and doesn’t always have a happy ending…much like the Dallas post-season for the last twenty years or so.)

It’s already started to cool down considerably, but our team remains on track to finish sanding by March 9th!

And, of course, hope springs eternal that our Phillies might finish the upcoming season over .500.

First snow of 2018

Not sure if anyone’s heard anything about it, but it’s been a bit cold recently and we’ve even had some snow in the region!

The cold has been a struggle even without the snow. “We haven’t been doing any sanding, obviously,” says Matt Giberson. “At least, not until it thaws out, and in order to do that we need a good rain to melt the ice. We’re at least a week or two from that even happening right now.”

The farm ended up getting about ten to twelve inches in yesterday’s storm, and the team did a lot of work beforehand to get ready. “Some of it was already done as part of the usual routine,” says Louis Cantafio. “But we made sure everything was buttoned up. And in this cold, we’re trying to warm stuff up longer, but otherwise it’s steady as she goes.”

Wednesday was all about storm prep. “We’ve been keeping an eye on the models but you never know what you’re going to get,” said Matt. “We could get anything from one to four inches to one to four feet. But we’re getting the loaders ready and will drop them off with Junior, Wilfredo, Caesar, and Joel so when it hits we can start clearing immediately.” Water, of course, is always our top priority. “The winter flood is on everywhere, and we’ve got all the wells shut down. But it’s been a struggle because of the ice forming; it’s hard to judge what the natural stream is when everything freezes up on us. We’ll keep breaking any ice forming when the snow and the wind blowing into the gates, but we’ll see.”

Our team is also doing as little work outside as possible. “We’re keeping the guys inside because it’s going to be brutal for next couple days. When it warms up we can do outside work on the dams, but when it’s 3 degrees out it limits our outdoor work,” Matt says. “So we’ll keep everyone indoors until the temperature rises a little; we’ll work on sprinklers, build gates, do some clean up, get the camp ready for next year when the seasonal guys come back.”

It’s not easy, but our team will keep doing whatever it takes, whatever the weather!

Winter flood 2017

The winter flood has begun!

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. 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 level we need. 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. “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,” says Matt Giberson. “It’s not something you learn 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.

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.”

Team communication is crucial to the process, adds Jeremy Fenstermaker, because “an action in one section will have a huge effect somewhere else. It’s important to learn the whole process but it’s even more important to know how it all ties together.”

Winter storms

When a big winter storm is in the forecast, the news pays a lot of attention to bread, milk, eggs, rock salt, and closures. On a farm, the work must be done whatever the weather, and our team needs to prep accordingly!

The number one priority every weekend is checking the water: checking for washouts, making sure nothing’s too high or too low, making sure there’s no water on the dam itself. Team members rotate the responsibility of doing a complete check of entire farm on Saturday and Sunday. “In order to make sure that gets done during bad weather as well, we need to make sure the main pathways are cleared,” says COO Bryan vonHahmann. “In order to do that, we sent the front loaders home with the guys, which meant once the blizzard hit, they were able to plow themselves out and start clearing the main dams. Then the other guys were able to go check the water, reservoirs, bogs, all that. And in the meantime the team just kept plowing. And plowing. And plowing.”

The Equipment/Facilities team also took some precautionary measures, making sure generators ready to go in case we lost power for an extended amount of time. They also made sure the heat was turned up in any vacant properties onsite, just in case. “We also packed the shop with equipment to work on,” says manager Louis Cantafio. “That way, we didn’t have to dig it out, or start it in the cold, or fill the shop with melting snow. We went over all the loaders, made sure they were greased and fueled and ready to go before the operators brought them home.” Then, once the storm hit, they had to start pushing everything. “All the dams where we’re running water had to be plowed,” he says, “but we also had to get all the egresses open and get rid of snow everywhere we needed to store incoming deliveries. It’s no small job, working on this place; the loaders started Saturday and kept on pushing until Monday.”

Another job well-done for one of the best teams around!