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. Indeed, the production 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, the way cranberries are harvested is still largely a mystery. Let’s reveal where they come from.
The myth of the aquatic plant
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 farmers wading in pools of cranberries 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 comes harvest time.
Flooding 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, then to the packaging or processing location. At Patience Fruit & Co, all of these steps are done right here, in the Centre-du-Québec region. Remember that water is used only for harvesting, not ripening, so the fields are flooded only for a few days during the cranberry harvest period. This is a completely brilliant trick used by our cranberry farmers!
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 and high drainage. Also, they just love the sun! If cranberries are given the light they need, they will thank you with a nice 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 cranberries don’t need tons of water, so why not make them a part of your garden?
Grow your own cranberries
There are a few simple steps you should follow to start your own mini-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 soil, but you can also plant it in a pot for pretty foliage.
1- Mark out a 60 x 60 cm square in your garden and dig a hole 20 to 30 cm deep.
2- Amend your patch with a mixture of equal parts peat moss and sand.
3- In the early spring, plant your seedling, which should be between 1 and 3 years old.
4- Water your garden when necessary: the soil should always be damp (without bogging, of course).
5- For the harvest, pick the berries in the fall once they’ve turned bright red!
6- A 60 x 60 cm plot should allow you to harvest one kilo of cranberries if you follow take good care of the plant.
You can find cranberry plants (whose Latin name is vaccinium macrocarpon) in most nurseries. It’s an easy challenge for the gardener within you, or the one you hope to become!