Cranberry Harvest Time in Michigan

cranberryplant

When you hear someone say; “Cranberry Harvest Time”, typically you wouldn’t think the harvest is taking place in the bountiful state of Michigan.  Times are changing!  It’s harvest season for cranberries and Michigan is one of the states where we can take advantage of fresh, local berries thanks to some dedicated farmers who believe the cranberry crop could be the next big crop to keep an eye on in Michigan. The state’s climate, soil and water resources make our state an excellent location for growing Michigan cranberries.  Compared to our neighbors across the big lake (Wisconsin) and their 21,000 acres of cranberry crops, Michigan has approximately 280 acres being harvested in cranberries annually. The Upper Peninsula, lower part of the northern peninsula and Southwest Michigan all grow cranberries. Michigan’s cranberry industry is expected to expand significantly in the coming years.

Cranberry Facts That Will Inspire:

  • The cranberry is one of the only 3 fruits native to North America.  Others include the blueberry and Concord grape.
  • Dennis, Massachusetts was the site of the first cranberry cultivation in 1816.
  • Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water.  They are grown on sandy bogs or marshes. Because cranberries can float some bogs are flooded when the fruit is ready for harvesting – typically the end of September to mid October.
  • Did you know there are 440 cranberries in one pound, 4,400 cranberries in one gallon of juice and 440,000 cranberries in a 100 pound barrel?
  • Americans consume 400 million pounds of cranberries per year, 8 million pounds (20%) are gobbled up during Thanksgiving week.
  • Cranberries start out white but as they ripen they turn a deep red.
  • Cranberries are among the highest of all fruits in antioxidants, which may help support memory function.
  • Cranberries are self-fruitful, meaning that pollen from a flower can pollinate itself. As a result, a single cultivar can be planted in a bed.
  • It takes about four years to produce a good crop of fruit from a new bed, and up to six years before a new bed is in full production.
  • In December during the first bitter cold weather, the dormant vines are flooded with water that quickly freezes into a solid covering of ice. This ice layer protects the cranberry vines from extreme cold and fluctuating temperatures.

Why not more cranberry farms in Michigan you ask? That was our first question when we watched this season’s cranberries being harvested this past week. Michigan has two laws that can be obstacles to development for cranberries. One was passed in 1972 to protect inland lakes and streams, and the other passed in 1979 to protect wetlands. Michigan regulates use of bogs, swamps and marshes that are larger than 5 acres in size or contiguous with a body of water. Use of these areas is subject to review and requires permits – but use is not necessarily prohibited. Potential growers tend to blame it on Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, which reputedly takes a dim cranberrybogview of projects that could potentially damage wetlands or pollute water. And there is no doubt DEQ enforces two state environmental laws that are tougher than those in most states. But both states enforce the same federal Clean Water Act, which has made cranberry bog expansion more difficult, everywhere, since it was passed in 1972.

Michigan pursued a different super fruit, blueberries, which flourish on the same dismal, acidic, sandy, high-water-table soils that cranberries do. The state has about 18,000 acres of blueberries on land that could have gone into cranberries. Wisconsin is on the cold side of the big lake and finds blueberries a bit tender for its climate. So, blueberries are Michigan’s cranberries.

About a dozen years ago, half a dozen Michigan growers decided to develop cranberry bogs – and the state tried to help. But about that time, cranberry prices went sour and blueberry prices soared. That pretty well stopped further cranberry development.  But things have changed again. Blueberry production has soared in other places and prices have softened. Meanwhile, cranberry demand, and prices, are rising.  A brighter future on the horizon for more cranberry farms in Michigan? We sure hope so!

Two Michigan Cranberry Farms are embracing the Cranberry Harvest this season.

Michigan Cranberries in HandsDeGrandchamp Farms:  76241 14th Ave, South Haven, MI  Fall Market Hours – 9am – 5pm Fridays and Saturdays

South Haven is known for its hundred of acres of blueberries and DeGrandchamp Farms is very well known by all the locals and their U-pick blueberries and farmers market, but tucked away on 42 acres of colorful cranberry bogs is DeGrandchamps hidden secret.  DeGrandchamp’s family began growing their unique to the area cranberry crops in 1994 with great success as of today. Harvesting the cranberries is quick and short – about 2 to 3 days.  We felt very fortunate for the opportunity to witness their harvest and learn more about Michigan’s cranberry crops.

Bob DeGrandchamp (cranberry farmer) shared with the group of attentive listeners the interesting fact; two of his laborers can push 60,000 tons of DeGrandchamp Cranberry Farmercranberries in about three hours. Wet harvesting is their primary way of collecting the ripened cranberries. During a wet harvest, the fruit is ‘beaten’ off the vine using a specialized harvester while the bogs are flooded. The floating fruit is then corralled and loaded onto trucks for delivery to a receiving station. Wet harvested fruit is used for processed cranberry products like juice and sauce.  Dry harvested fruit is ‘combed’ from the vine using a mechanized picking machine. No water is involved during this process. The fruit is loaded into bins and shipped to their warehouse where it is cleaned, milled, and packaged as fresh fruit.  After learning about the cranberry bogs and the harvest process, attendees were invited to follow the berries into the warehouse for a demonstration of the equipment used to clean and package the berries for Market. Very educational!

One must definitely take the time to shop the family’s farm market and buy fresh (recommended for the upcoming holidays!) and dried cranberries to enjoy! They offer cranberry salsa, cranberry preserves and even cranberry mustards and syrups! We highly recommend consuming a few of their homemade baked cranberry desserts, we couldn’t resist ourselves! Hit the spot!

West Michigan Cranberry Harvest

Michigan Cranberry Company:  4114 Marlette Rd Marlette,  MI

In 1991 Michigan Cranberry Company was formed.  The first beds were planted in 1993 with a respectable harvest in 1998.  Currently Michigan Cranberry Company is harvesting over three million pounds of cranberries on 150 acres of cranberry beds.  In 2010 an additional 70 acres of cranberry beds were planted.  Michigan Cranberry Company is the largest cranberry marsh in the State of Michigan, accounting for three-fourths of the state’s crop.  With 45 beds to harvest, Michigan Cranberry Company’s harvest typically produces approximately 3 to 6 million pounds of cranberries depending on how bountiful the harvest is from year to year.  The majority of this Northern Michigan farm’s cranberries are sold directly to processors and wholesale packers.

Whaddaya think?