Every autumn from mid-September until Thanksgiving in November, our producers harvest millions of kilos of cranberries on their farms in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, the state of Washington, Wisconsin and in some areas of British Colombia and Quebec.
A perennial plant, the cranberry’s long shoots grow in sandy bogs and wetlands. In the early days, cranberries were meticulously picked by hand. Producers then used wooden shovels, which resembled large combs, to brush the trees and remove the berries. Today, producers use two methods for harvesting: dry or flooding.
Dry bog harvesting
For the harvest of cranberries in dry bogs, which are destined for the fresh fruit market, producers use mechanical harvesters, which resemble large lawn mowers. The moving metal teeth of the harvesters brush the plants and remove the berries, which are then collected in a burlap behind the machine. The bags of harvested berries are normally then transported by helicopter in order to protect the plants from truck damage.
Flooded bog harvesting
Contrary to popular belief, cranberries don’t grow underwater. However, water plays an important role in this harvesting method.
Harvesting a flooded bog actually begins the night before. The producer floods the dry bog with 45 cm of water. The next day, the cranberries are freed from the branches with the help of water reels or “egg beaters”. Because cranberries contain pockets of air, the freed berries float to the surface of the water. The deep red of the cranberries floating on the water, with the autumn foliage and the bright blue sky in the background, is a breathtaking sight. The berries are then collected using giant nets by producers who wear waders then transported by trucks to a central unit, where they are sorted and graded. The cranberries that are harvested in flooded bogs are transformed into food products and juice.
“Peg Leg” Webb and the bouncing cranberries
Ocean Spray judges its cranberries based on their colour, size and freshness... as well as – surprising as it sounds – their ability to bounce! An old producer from New Jersey, John “Peg Leg” Webb, was the first to remark on this peculiarity. Because of his wooden leg, he was unable to transport his berries to the barn where he stored them.
Instead, he let them fall down the stairs and quickly noticed that only the firmest and freshest berries bounced all the way to the bottom. The soft and bruised fruit didn’t bounce and stayed on the highest steps. His observation led to the creation of the first cranberry separator, a piece of equipment that is based on the bounce, a method that Ocean Spray still uses today to eliminate damaged or inferior-quality berries.