Native to North America, cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait.) are produced on low growing vines that are found growing in USDA Hardiness Zones 2-6. Commercial production of cranberries did not being until the 1820s when Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran, began growing the berries in a pasture and shipping the berries for consumption along the northeast coast of the United States. These early berries were hand picked until the invention of water harvesting in the 1940s.
When to Harvest
Cranberries are ready to be picked when the berries are dark red and, when the berries are opened, the seeds inside them are brown. The berries will be slightly soft to the touch. Cranberries must be harvested before the first frost because they do not tolerate temperatures below 30 F.
Handpicking cranberries is also called dry harvesting. The cranberries are hand picked off of the plants and placed into containers. This method is mostly used by growers who sell whole berries at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. It is also the most economical method for small, home growers who want the choicest berries for personal use.
Water harvesting, also called wet harvesting, is a popular method of harvesting cranberries used by major producers. The cranberry beds are flooded and, by agitating the water, the berries loosen from the plants and float to the top of the water. Wet harvested cranberries are often bruised and contain rot spores. They are not sold whole to the public. Instead, these berries are used for making cranberry products, such as juices and jelly.
Protecting Plants After Harvest
After the berries have been harvested, it is time to prepare your plants for winter. Cranberry plants are evergreens. They need moisture during the cold, winter months. To prevent the ground from freezing and drying up the leaves, cover cranberry plants with mulch made from either pine needles or tree leaves. In April, uncover the plants during the days and cover them back up at night until the threat of spring frost is no longer a problem. With proper care, cranberry plants can live up to 100 years or longer.