Planting – spring 2020

A couple of weeks ago our team was replanting some bare patches. This week, they’re hard at work on our renovated acreage!

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 we’ve moved on to using rooted cuttings entirely. 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 our planting for spring to provide more time in the growing season. With the acreage we need to cover (about 50 acres this year) and how the timing coincides with very busy times on the farm we work hard to balance all resources.

This year we planted our renovated acreage at Sim Place with Demoranville and the new bogs at the home farm with Haines, both of which have been yielding good results for us.


Perennial crops have perennial challenges, and one of our more persistent ones is the disease known as fairy ring.

Treatments are planned very carefully, with team members listing the top producing bogs that aren’t marked for renovation and setting priorities for what remains.

Dr. Peter Oudemans has run several ongoing fairy ring experiments on some of Pine Island’s established beds, looking at different treatments, and using drones to evaluate the progress.

“Fairy ring already messes up the canopy. It kills the edge, but then it leaves the center as a scar on the bed and also reduces yield,” Peter says. There have been some treatments for the centers of those rings to help them recover and help with the scarring, such as slow release fertilizers. And, of course, our team plans renovations carefully. “The best thing is not having to deal with it in the first place,” says manager Mike Haines. “That’s a huge focus when we assign a bog for renovation. Attention to detail in renovation and thinking about it thoroughly and critically are important so you can avoid having to do all this stuff later.”

Unfortunately other things like weather, drainage, and pests can cause problems as well. When it’s feasible, instead of tearing out an entire bog, our team will sometimes hand plant only the sections that have been affected.

Usually the rooted cuttings are trimmed, but currently the nursery does not keep a full staff at all times for social distancing reasons. “That makes the cuttings too long for the planters, but with small patches like these we’d be hand planting anyway,” says Tug Haines. “It also makes it easier for the guys to space themselves out.”

And, of course, as we come into the bloom period, our team will continue to make considered decisions about plant nutrition as well!

Spring tasks: plant nutrition

We’ve had some unseasonably cold nights but our team has finally been able to start fertilizer application!

The amount of fertilizer we apply to each bed is determined by variety, soil conditions, and past practices, requiring constant evaluation of current conditions, history, and trends. Nutritional needs are also different for young vines as opposed to established plantings. Additional nutrition is necessary because while cranberries have adapted (and thrive) in their native sandy soil, nutrients are taken from the bog through the harvest of fruit.

The three main elements usually added for nutrition are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and the team bases their decisions on tissue samples, and last year’s yield. According to “Cranberry plant demand for nitrogen is highest during three stages of the lifecycle critical to cranberry development–early growth, fruit set and bud set. Early growth is when the plant grows vegetatively through vining and root growth and produces a flush of new leaves. Fruit set is when the flower becomes pollinated and fruit begin to form. Soon after fruit set comes bud set when nitrogen is needed for both fruit development and production of the next year’s flower bud.”

Downstown flew for the first time here this year on Wednesday, so it feels like the growing season has officially started now,” says Mike Haines. “They flew in some fertilizer on some young beds, and also applied some slow release fertilizer to some newer plantings that we wanted to give an extra boost to. Besides that, we are expanding our use of the boom this year, and will be using it to apply fertilizer to the Stump beds, which are new Demoranville beds we planted last year. They were built specifically with the boom in mind, 200 feet across. I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.”

Water drawdown – 2020

Spring has arrived and 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.

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.

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.

“Things are a little different this year with COVID-19,” says manager Matt Giberson. “We had a late start, so we focused on putting systems in and re-flooding. One, to help with frost nights, and two, because a few of the guys on the frost team are delayed due to virus precautions. We usually get five to six systems done in a day but because we were delayed, our team worked late and was able to get eight to thirteen systems in a day to get us back on track. So we’ve been doing a lot more taking off water and putting it back on. We have plenty of water and wells; now we just need to get everything re-flooded within a few days.”

Once it’s all done, everything should be on track for the cold nights still to come!