Gardening Tips and Highlights

Cranberries

by Christine Yesko

 

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) has a rich history in Wisconsin. Commercial production began about 1860 near Berlin, and today many are fourth and fifth-generation growers on the same farms. Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of cranberries, producing nearly sixty percent of the crop.

Cranberries are a native plant that grows naturally in acid bogs or marshlands, generally, an area where no other crop can be grown. Cranberry bog soil is unique in that it consists of alternating layers of sand and organic matter. They do not grow underwater or in standing water, and they need moist but well-drained soil for proper root growth and function.

The plant is a low-growing trailing woody evergreen vine that produces stems or runners from one to six feet long. The leaves are tiny and oblong in shape. In Wisconsin, they flower in late June and early July. Berries start to develop after pollination and will change in color from green to white, to dark red at maturity.

Cranberries are self-fruitful, meaning the pollen from a flower can pollinate itself. Many farmers also hire beekeepers to bring hives of honeybees to the fields to help with pollination.

Water is used to protect the plants in the winter. Bogs are covered with water that freezes, the ice layer protects the vines from extreme cold and fluctuating temperatures. They are harvested in the fall-generally around mid-September through mid-November. Wet harvesting is the most common and cost-effective practice used. In this process, the bog is flooded with water and special equipment churns and loosens the cranberries from the vine. Cranberries have small air pockets that allow them to float to the surface, making it easier to scoop them up.

Cranberries are a superfruit, because they help maintain a healthy heart and help support memory and a healthy immune system. They are a good source of Vitamin C and fiber, are fat-free, cholesterol-free, low calorie, and low in sodium and are the highest of all fruits in antioxidants.

Don’t forget to include Cranberries in your next Holiday meal.