Exactly how do cranberries grow on Cape Cod?

It’s cranberry season on Cape Cod  and many of our guests will ask us how are cranberries grown? I  always reply that they grow in bogs and are harvested in the fall. This year I decided that I needed to be a little more educated on this subject matter and how fitting that I blog about it!

Cape Cod Bog

Indians introduced cranberries to the Pilgrims in the early 1600’s. The Pilgrims learned the benefits  of cranberries and used them as a remedy against scurvy. Later uses included using the fruit to make dyes, and whalers and residents used the cranberry as a major source of vitamin C.  Colonists actually called the fruit”crane berry” because the blossom and stem resembled a crane’s head and neck. In 1816, Captain Henry Hall of Dennis noticed when sand blew on his cranberry bogs and settled on the vines, cranberry production increased. After some perfecting and practice, commercial cranberry harvesting began to multiply on Cape Cod.

A bog is technically a spongy, low lying wetland that holds water and is full of ancient decayed vegetation. Since cranberries require constant moisture, bogs make a fertile and moist natural habitat for them to grow.  Commercial bogs use a system of wetlands, uplands, ponds and other water bodies to have the cranberries grow year after year. Cape Cod offers the special conditions that cranberries require, including sandy soil, abundant fresh water and a dormancy period that requires enough chill hours to produce a  crop for the following season. Normally growers do not replant every year since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines on the Cape are more than 150 years old and are still bearing fruit.

Harvesting begins shortly after Labor Day and continues through October. Most growers use a wet pick method that involves flooding the bogs and then using a water reel, known to growers as an egg beater, that moves through the flooded bogs beating the water to knock the ripened berries of off the vines. After the berries are off the vine they float to the top and workers connect miles of tubing, called a boom, which corrals the berries into a conveyer belt.

Workers gather berries using a boom

Cranberry harvesting in Cape Cod

In the winter after the harvest, the bogs are covered with water that freezes and provides protection against frost. In mid March the water melts and the bogs are drained and left exposed and ready for the summer sun to promote growth. One of our favorite summer bike rides is to ride our bikes on the rail trail and to see all the summer cranberry bogs.

Fall is such a magical time on the Cape and we always recommend to our Brewster by the Sea and Captain Freeman Inn guests to visit the Harwich Cranberry Festival.
It’s a fun time for all filled with a  arts & crafts fair, parade  and musical concerts.

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