Harvesting Cranberries

Since the early nineteenth century, growers have invented and produced most of all their own tools and machinery. The first tools used in the industry were adapted from other farming practices. The cranberry scoop as shown in the above picture, first came into the bog scene in the 1890’s. The scoop seems to have descended from Maine and Norwegian blueberry scoops. Until the mid-1960’s cranberries were nearly always dry harvested. Dry harvesting a bog meant using fingers, scoops or mechanical devices that scooped berries off the vines when the bog was dry.

The Cranberry Harvest, Nantucket Island, painted in 1880 by Eastman Johnson. Here the pickers are using their fingers to scoop berries off the vines.

In the mid-1960’s a grower by the name David Mann invented a water wheel which lead the way for wet harvest.  For wet harvest growers flood their bogs with water then use harvesting machines that loosen cranberries off the vine. Because cranberries have small air pockets in their center, they are able to float to the water’s surface. Once all the berries on a bog are shaken off the vine and floating on the surface, they are then corralled into a corner of the bog where conveyors lift them from the bog onto trucks and then to processing plants.

Harvest wheels knocking berries off on a flooded bog.

Cranberries are cornered into a small section and then brought onto trucks by conveyor belts.

The introduction of wet harvest is what has saved the cranberry industry. Berries that are picked by wet harvest are processed and used in foods such as sweet and dried cranberries, juice, jams, and even items such as toothpaste and dental floss. Berries that are picked by dry harvest are sold fresh and available in the market from October through the end of November. Today nearly 80% of growers in the United States wet harvest, mostly due to the high demand for the products that require the berries.

Compared to wet harvest, dry harvest is a very tedious, expensive, and labor intensive process. Not to mention that when berries arrive at the receiving station they must be in immaculate condition or the entire load of berries are discarded. Personally I adore fresh cranberries. Every harvest I try to make sure to get my hands on several pounds, of which I will then freeze and use over the year. This year my goal is to try drying cranberries on my dehydrator of which I hope to add then save and use throughout the year.

As the harvest season picks up we will be posting more pictures. Stay tuned!

photo source1, source2, source3


2 Responses to Harvesting Cranberries

  1. Em says:

    Um, want to hear what a ditz I am? I was seriously wondering if and how the Native Americans flooded the natural cranberry bogs you mentioned a while ago…..

    See, I’m learning so much from you :) Love the old photo at the top, too.

    • Revel says:

      oh Em, you’re certainly not a ditz! When I use to give bog tours I think that was one of the most asked questions. And yea, I love the picture of the girl too. There are lot of pictures that were taken during that time period of children (mostly Cape Verdean) who worked on the bog. I find them beautiful yet disturbing at the same time.

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