Dormancy

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.

Cold weather options

We’ve had some cold winters recently, but this one has been comparatively milder. The past couple of days, however, have been a little more chilly. The cold can made our winter tasks more challenging, and in some past instances, we’ve had to alter plans temporarily. The following lists some things we’ve done in the past to keep our team out of the elements as much as possible.

“Our guys dress for the weather, but we really can’t keep our team exposed to the elements when the temperature is this low,” explains COO Bryan vonHahmann. “And when it’s cold, it’s hard to dig, so we’ve had to slow down on that.” A lot of the outdoor bog reno work gets postponed for the moment, as well as the sanding operation. (While we have tried ice sanding in the past, the weather can actually get too cold to even attempt it; low temperatures not only affect the team, but the equipment as well.)

To that end, our team has kept busy by working indoors as much as possible. Some build signs for our property borders, some work on box repairs, and still others assemble sprinklers for the current acreage under renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Depending on the day to day forecast, though, some outdoor work is usually possible. “When the wind’s not blowing and the sun is out, we’re able to send a team out to work on the survey lines,” says Bryan. “They’re protected a bit by the trees, so they’re able to go out and post the signs that have been built already.” And when it’s warm enough to run equipment, the team will keep busy disassembling the old wooden gates we’ve recently replaced.

Our team is still doing whatever it takes…but they’re making sure to keep safe and keep warm at the same time!

Land management: prescribed burning

It’s the burning season again in the Pine Barrens! While that might sound frightening, it just means it’s time to start doing some needed forest maintenance via prescribed burning.

Per the New Jersey Forest Fire Service:

The primary purpose of prescribed burning in New Jersey is to reduce the hazardous accumulations of forest fuels. This aids in the prevention of wildfires, reduces the intensity of the fires, and also provides a foundation for safer, more effective fire suppression and protection operations.

Pine Island has been a long-time proponent of this method and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.” He understands the concern, but reassures people that all is well: “Weather permitting, people will see many smoke columns rising from the pinelands area in the coming weeks with no cause for alarm.”

With constant communication, our motivated team, and the able assistance of neighboring growers and fire experts, Pine Island is more than ready to keep up the the constant endeavor of caring for the place where we live, work, and grow!

Winter work

In addition to sanding, our team is working on some of our other usual winter tasks. Running three sanding crews means that a lot of team members are busy, but there are still other things to do!

Harvest time can be tough on our dams, as well as wet weather, so our team has been doing some maintenance work on them this week. Some dams are really only used during harvest, and if they get any ruts in a heavy rain, it’s usually fine. But the ones everyone uses most can deteriorate quickly, pushing out both water and sand; proper maintenance now is much more efficient than trying to fix the problem later. In some instances, all we really need is to pass over it with the scraper.

Our bog renovation, of course, is always ongoing, and when it’s wet outside, some team members will be indoors assembling sprinklers for the new renovation as well as repairing old sprinklers: replacing worn out nozzles, springs, and sprinkler heads.

Well-maintained, consistently available equipment and facilities that are fully operational are instrumental to Pine Island’s daily efficiency and the success of our operation. The facilities/equipment team usually has several projects going at once, assisting the sanding operation, the bog renovation team, and working on building upkeep, as well as doing all the necessary equipment maintenance in order to be prepared for the growing season and beyond.

Sanding 2020

Winter tasks are well underway! The winter flooding has begun, which means that it’s once again time to start sanding.

sanding-2016-141

Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply a thin layer of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis: one inch for established bogs, a half-inch for young bogs. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

The routine usually remains the same every year. First, we check water levels: our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so our sanding barge doesn’t get stuck on any vines or worse, tear them out. Also, the sand needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen our sand before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems.

Sand-Pit-004

Our team begins to prep a couple of days beforehand by checking to see how much the water level needs to come up. The day before the crew arrives, a supervisor will get the water to sanding level (high enough to cover all vines) and measure out the distance the sander will travel. The crew will begin to sand on the deepest side. The water level can then be adjusted if necessary, which helps with dam conservation. They also send the necessary equipment out to the sanding location. A tractor with a winch is on one side of the bog, ready to move the length of the bog; an excavator is on the opposite side of the bog. The cable from the winch is stretched across the bog, through the sander (which has been lifted and put in the bog next to the excavator), and connected to the excavator.

sanding-2016-037

sanding-2016-026

The process itself is simple: a truck is loaded with sand, then heads over to the bog being sanded, backs up to the excavator, and drops the load into our specially built sandbox (designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste). The excavator operator then loads the hopper of the sander, while the sander operator moves along the cable, adjusting the opening for the sand to fall. The process is repeated, with the excavator and tractor moving forward the length of the bog together.

sanding-2016-129

They’ve also been trying a new method for the edges. Because the sanders can only come up to the dam to for a fresh load of sand, there’s a distance from the ditches at both the beginning and end of the dam which can be missed. We’d purchased a used side-discharge manure spreader to fill in the gaps a couple years ago and retrofitted it to slow it down, then did a fair amount of experimenting. “We weren’t really impressed with the results,” says manager Mike Haines. Now the team is trying a new method, similar to the basic sanding method, using equipment that we already have on hand. “We’re keeping an eye on it and will make adjustments to the barge if we think that we’re getting a lot of overlap and putting too much down.”

Our team has already hit approximately one-third of their sanding targets for the year! “The weather’s been really cooperative,” Mike says. “The barges have had to break through some ice in the mornings, and we missed a day this week because the sand was freezing, but we’re running three crews and that’s really helping us move along.”

Preventative measures: swans

A niche crop like cranberries often has niche challenges! One of the toughest of those might be surprising to some people: the tundra swan. Tundra swans migrate to the area every year from Alaska and northwestern Canada and are particularly fond of red root, a weed that competes with cranberry vines for nutrients. When they fly in to feed, they not only tear out the red root, they also tear out vines and leave enormous holes that damage the beds themselves.

Since the swans are a protected species, growers have had to come up with a harmless solution to keep them safely away from the bogs. At Pine Island our PIICM team has been installing swan string for several years. The strings help keep the swans out of the bog by limiting the space available. “Swans are like a commercial airliner,” CEO Bill Haines says. “Having the strings up disrupts their attempt to both land and take off again.” Not all of the bogs are strung; our team maps them out where we have found red root and where the swans have been spotted. Just three acres of swan damage can give us a loss of 200 barrels per acre, or even more, depending on the variety. That takes three years to come back.

When setting up swan string, the team places rebar in the ground along the longer sides of a bog, about every 75 feet. On the ends of the bog, the team walks it out and determines how many lines they’ll need to run lengthwise though the center. Once the rods are laid out on the dam, a team of three to five people gets into the bog and walks the string across. Once the entire bog is strung, the team goes back in and puts up poles, which are used to keep the strings out of the water so that they don’t freeze. They’re placed in a checkered pattern, not necessarily on every line. The poles can either be cedar posts or recycled irrigation pipe. In addition to the recycling/environmental aspect, reusing the irrigation line is lighter and easier to handle.

This year, our team installed almost one million feet of swan string, which come out to about one hundred and eighty-seven miles. That’s a lot of walking!

Our team has also adopted a backup method in the past few years: an Agrilaser. From their website:

Deterring pest birds from open and semi-open spaces has long posed a costly and nagging challenge to property owners and managers. While noisemakers like propane cannons can scatter bird pests, they can also be disruptive and must be repeated often to keep birds from coming back. Lethal means of bird control—poisons, pellet guns and inhumane traps—are illegal in many areas, as many birds are protected by law. Bird B Gone’s Agrilaser® provides an effective, humane solution. It uses advanced, patented optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. The handheld device is silent and completely portable. Pest birds react to the green beam as they would an approaching car, so they flee the area. Yet, unlike some deterrent devices, birds will not get used to the laser beam’s implied threat.

With some trial and error around timing and placement, our team found that it does have some effect. This year, the plan is to use the laser during the brief period that string has temporarily been removed from the beds we’re sanding. “You’d think they’d stay away with all the equipment around, but they don’t,” says Matt Giberson. “But since it’s been effective the past couple of years, it’s good to have a backup to keep both the bogs and the birds safe.”

Here comes the rain again . . .

The weather continues to be a challenge for our team this winter!

“The past year we’ve gotten about 70 to 75 inches of rain,” says manager Matt Giberson. “It just hasn’t let up; everything’s saturated.” This means that everything’s been a struggle: maintaining equipment, fixing dam erosion, and hitting this year’s sanding targets. “If it’s not raining, we’re getting snow. We get a freeze, then it thaws, then it freezes again; it’s extremely frustrating trying to get a rhythm going. We’ll get two good weeks and get a good chunk of it done, then things freeze up and we can only manage a day here, two days there.” If the weather remained consistently we could try ice sanding, but the frequent temperature changes make that difficult.

The heavy rains this winter have also called a halt to other late-season tasks. “It’s too wet to do any prescribed burning,” Matt says. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to do any this year.” The ground saturation is also causing issues for our or survey lines: “There are certain areas the guys can’t get through; nothing’s frozen over long enough that we feel comfortable sending someone out to work on them.”

In the meantime, the team continues to focus on indoor work! “The biggest thing right now is making gates! We’ve created an assembly line with six guys, and they’re making five gates per day right now; our goal is to try to get to six if we can work out a more efficient process. We’ve made all the sprinklers, but that’s part of regular irrigation maintenance that we do every year; the focus is to recycle and reuse as we need it for emergencies or repairs for spring.”

“The weather is the weather, but it’s still not fun. Two or three inches of rain at a shot, twice a week is a lot of deal with,” Matt says. Here’s hoping for a drier spring! And in the meantime, our team will keep doing whatever it takes to work with Mother Nature.

Bog renovation – winter 2019

While the rest of our team is hard at work on our usual winter tasks such as sanding, our bog renovation team is also keeping busy!

Bog renovation is a time-consuming and capital-intensive but necessary project that will increase both yield and quality by improving bog and irrigation design. Effective bed drainage is critical, especially in New Jersey, where the humid climate can provide a favorable environment for Phytophthora cinnamomi, a known cause of root rot. Other improvements to the water system will include new gates, rebuilt ditches, and relocation of pumps, if necessary. As part of our irrigation redesign, and with the redesign of some of the beds, it’s sometimes necessary to make some changes in order to maximize water flow to the pump. Relocation of the pump houses is also helpful for improved access, both for refueling and repairs.

Our current renovation acreage is each at a different stage. “At Stump, we’re moving the canal over and rebuilding it,” says manager Steve Manning. “We’re rebuilding the dams, though it’s taking a little while; it’s been too wet to be doing too much grading.”

“At Bull Coo, we’ll be putting sand in this week and putting the gates in, too,” Steve says. “We need to redirect some of the ramps and the dams, as well.”

The weather’s been a bit of challenge at times. “Everything being frozen can be bad; when the ground’s tight it works to our advantage when putting sand in and for hauling but digging is hard,” Steve says. “When it’s cold and windy nobody wants to be outside! Monday was brutal; Tuesday felt like spring in comparison. But it’s getting cold again, they say, so hopefully we can take advantage while the ground’s frozen and get our trucks out again.”

Sanding 2019

Winter tasks are well underway! The winter flooding has begun, which means that it’s once again time to start sanding.

sanding-2016-141

Sanding is a fundamental component of our Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program, helping us manage the relationship between water, soil, weather, disease, insects, weeds, and nutrition. Sanding is a process where we apply a thin layer of sand on the bog surface every four years on a rotating basis: one inch for established bogs, a half-inch for young bogs. This procedure helps improve growth and yield by stimulating the development of new uprights (covering the base of the roots strengthens the root system and creates a more healthy vine) while also suppressing disease and reducing insects (by burying weed seed, spores, and insect eggs). It also improves soil drainage while at the same time absorbing and releasing heat so that frost danger in spring is lessened. This increases our efficiency by lowering the need for extra plant nutrition as well as saving water by cutting down frost irrigation times.

The routine usually remains the same every year. First, we check water levels: our team needs to make sure the water is the right depth so our sanding barge doesn’t get stuck on any vines or worse, tear them out. Also, the sand needs to be as pure as possible in order to prevent soil compaction (which can restrict water and limit growth) so we screen our sand before using it on the barge to take out any clay, stones, or other debris which could cause problems.

Sand-Pit-004

Our team begins to prep a couple of days beforehand by checking to see how much the water level needs to come up. The day before the crew arrives, a supervisor will get the water to sanding level (high enough to cover all vines) and measure out the distance the sander will travel. The crew will begin to sand on the deepest side. The water level can then be adjusted if necessary, which helps with dam conservation. They also send the necessary equipment out to the sanding location. A tractor with a winch is on one side of the bog, ready to move the length of the bog; an excavator is on the opposite side of the bog. The cable from the winch is stretched across the bog, through the sander (which has been lifted and put in the bog next to the excavator), and connected to the excavator.

sanding-2016-037

sanding-2016-026

The process itself is simple: a truck is loaded with sand, then heads over to the bog being sanded, backs up to the excavator, and drops the load into our specially built sandbox (designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste). The excavator operator then loads the hopper of the sander, while the sander operator moves along the cable, adjusting the opening for the sand to fall. The process is repeated, with the excavator and tractor moving forward the length of the bog together.

sanding-2016-129

While rain has been an issue, on the dry days the weather’s been highly cooperative! Milder weather helps the entire process run much more smoothly; wet sand can freeze and cause mechanical issues even after being screened. “We couldn’t ask for a better day than this,” says Matt Giberson.

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.