Myth: Cranberries Grow in Water
Truth: Cranberries grow best in acidic soil with a good amount of sand on top to provide adequate drainage.
Truth: Cranberries require significant amounts of water for irrigation, frost protection, harvesting, winter flooding and February sanding.
As we went for our daily walk on the marsh yesterday, I really took notice of the movement of water around a cranberry operation. We are fortunate to live in an area of Wisconsin with abundant water. Of course, there was the Drought of '88 and more recently, a lesser drought in 2012, however, for the most part, water is abundant in our area. This is one reason for the prolific production of cranberries in Wisconsin.
As a cranberry wife, I often hear, "I'm going out to check water." Depending on the time of year, that simple statement has many meanings. This time of year, harvest time, it typically means the water levels in the ditches have to be checked to see if they are coming up enough for flooding the bed.
Yesterday the ditch out front looked like this to my left.
And like this to my right.
Today this ditch is filled to the top. This water is being moved from the main pond (or reservoir) down to the bottom cranberry beds which are in the process of being flooded, raked and harvested.
Here you can see the reservoir, which is where all the water moving begins.
And how is one man able to control the movement of all this water? With a series of bulkheads. Below is a bulkhead boarded to the top, currently keeping the water in the ditch and not in the cranberry bed. Take a walk around the marsh and one will see many, many bulkheads of varying sizes. The one seen below is rather small.
And here I caught Warren in the act of dropping in a couple of boards. Again he's keeping water out of cranberry beds and directing further down the ditch.
So that's a little about the movement of water from the reservoir to a cranberry bed for the purpose of harvesting.
Now back to the myth about cranberries growing in water, which they don't. Typically during the growing season the ditches around each cranberry bed have only a small amount of water, even less than in the picture below. Remember, cranberries like good drainage and that's why each bed has a ditch around it.
Once all that water's been moved to the cranberry bed needing harvesting, boards are placed in the bulkhead to keep the water in, as in this case. These cranberries have already been raked from the vine and are floating in water waiting to be corralled and elevated through the cleaner and into the truck.
Yet, another way we move water around is through pumps. Behind the dump truck is a berry cleaner which uses water to clean leaf trash off the cranberries. The pumps pull water from the ditch to use in this process.
We also use water jets to help push the cranberries toward the berry cleaner. The jets can be seen in the picture below.
Water also has to be moved through irrigation pipes for frost protection and irrigation during the growing season. So sometimes water is transported through pipes next to water-filled ditches.
And other times, pipes transport water over water.
There you have it, a bit about water use on cranberry marshes. And just for your knowledge, tonight, I heard another common phrase uttered by cranberry husbands everywhere:
I gotta go move water. I'll be right back.