As the star of the holiday table and the perfect complement to a dark chocolate dessert, cranberries have made their mark when it comes to nutrition. Rich in vitamins and versatile in the kitchen, this red berry can be enjoyed in all kinds of sauces!
Indeed, the consumption of the little tart berry has taken off in the past decade in Quebec. Although we might be familiar with how strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are grown, how do cranberries grow? Here is a little guide to help you understand how cranberries grow and what the misconceptions are about this berry!
The myth of the aquatic plant
Despite the well-known images of flooded fields, cranberries are falsely believed to be an aquatic plant. They actually grow on land and require no more water than your lawn! So why do we so often see cranberry farmers wading in pools of ruby fruits up to their knees? Because cranberries have a characteristic unlike any other small berry: they float!
This detail doesn’t influence the growth of the cranberry, but changes everything when harvest time comes.
Flooding the cranberry fields for a better harvest
Cranberries are not picked manually. There’s a much more efficient method to harvest the fruit: flooding the fields. After submerging the cranberry bushes, a machine comes around to detach all the berries, which then float to the surface. Next, the water level is increased further, which allows the floating berries to be pushed to one end of the basin using tools called booms.
The cranberries are then sucked into a pump and onto trucks to be transported to the sorting and cleaning centre, where they are packaged or processed. At Patience Fruit & Co, all the steps of this typical cranberry harvest method are done right here, in the Centre-du-Québec region.
Remember that water is used only for harvesting, not ripening, so the cranberry fields are flooded only for a few days during the cranberry harvest period. This is a completely brilliant trick used by our farmers!
How do cranberries grow? Characteristics and conditions
To better understand cranberry cultivation, let’s start at the beginning. Did you know that there are several varieties of cranberries?
- The one that is common in North America, vaccinium macrocarpon in latin, is the cultivated cranberry, which produces large berries.
- The other, Vaccinium oxycoccos, which is found in Europe (particularly in northern France), is known as the wild cranberry.
The North American cranberry tree is a fruit-bearing shrub that usually does not exceed 30 cm. It has small, green evergreen leaves and produces pink flowers as soon as spring arrives. Grown in cold temperature areas, it requires careful water management and meticulous monitoring each season to allow it to bear its beautiful berries in the fall.
During the winter, the plants are immersed under inches of water to protect them from frost. They are submerged again in the spring to protect the plants from pests, then again in the fall to facilitate the harvest.
During the flowering period, the pollination of the cranberry flowers begins. Honeybees and bumblebees also take part in the effort. Pollination allows the current season’s fruit to be tied. The better the flowers are pollinated, the larger and more seed-filled the fruit will be.
Where do cranberries grow?
Cranberries thrive in bogs with damp, acidic peat soils. They can primarily be found in Canada, the United States, and certain parts of Europe.
The cranberry is a perennial plant that is highly resistant to cold (even harsh winter months), which is why it can be found particularly in Quebec, a pioneer and leading producer of organic cranberry cultivation!
Simple cranberry growing conditions
So, if cranberries don’t grow in the water, how do they grow? To allow them to grow to their full potential, cranberries need sandy soil with low pH. Also, they just love the sun! If cranberries are given the light they need in the ideal environment, they will thank you with a nice, flavourful berry harvest.
It’s preferable to plant this plant rather early in the spring, when the temperature is still cool, because it should not be subject to heat stress while it’s taking root. So, since cranberry crops don’t need tons of water, why not make them a part of your garden?
When to harvest the cranberries
The cranberry harvest usually takes place in the fall, from September to October. As soon as the berries turn red, and their colour becomes bright, they are ready to be harvested! However, it’s necessary to monitor the outdoor temperature, because cranberries cannot withstand temperatures below -4 °C.
The fresh cranberries can then be added to your favourite dishes and juices, or frozen to be eaten later.
Since the cranberry isn’t very fickle, why don’t you try to grow your own crimson berries? You can plant a new cranberry plant in the spring!
How to grow your own cranberries: 6 steps
Now that you know how cranberries grow, you’re ready to grow them yourself!
There are a few simple steps you should follow to start your own individual cranberry farm. First, note that fruit won’t appear before the third or fourth year of the plant’s life. Also, the cranberry bush grows more easily in acidic soil, but you can also plant it in a pot for pretty foliage.
- Mark out a 60 x 60 cm square in your garden and dig a hole 20 to 30 cm deep.
- Amend your patch with a mixture of equal parts peat moss and sand.
- In the early spring, plant your seedlings, which should be between 1 and 3 years old.
- Water your garden when necessary: the soil should always be damp (without bogging, of course).
- For the harvest, pick the berries in the fall once they’ve turned bright red!
- A 60 x 60 cm plot should allow you to harvest one kilo of cranberries if you take good care of the plant.
You can find cranberry plants in most nurseries. It’s an easy challenge for the gardener within you, or the one you hope to become!
Berries from Quebec, grown with patience
Now you know how cranberries grow! This plant takes root well in the soil, not in the water as one might think. Strong and resistant, it gives us beautiful, tart red berries that are ready to complement our drinks, dishes, and breakfasts in the fall.
Patience Fruit & Co offers you a range of delicious cranberry-based products to let you discover all the versatility of this berry! Coated in chocolate, mixed with other nuts and dried fruit, or juiced, enjoy your favourite little berry in all its flavours.
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