|Wednesday What\'s New: Growing Cranberries|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Tuesday, 21 November 2006|
In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, I thought I would post this article. With any luck, some of us just might be serving a delicious cranberry sauce made from cranberries grown in our very own gardens next year.
You can grow this Thanksgiving staple
By LEE REICH, Associated Press
The cranberry jelly on your Thanksgiving table could have been made from berries that you harvested yourself, right in your own yard. And you wouldn’t have needed to slide into a pair of hip boots to wade out into a bog.
Commercial cranberries are grown in bogs that can be flooded, as needed, by cranberry farmers. During harvest season, machines that look like giant egg beaters turned sideways ply the then-flooded bogs, knocking off the berries, which float and are then corralled into one corner and scooped up.
In winter, the farmers flood the bogs again to protect the plants from cold. Even after the water is drained off in spring, farmers may deliberately flood their bogs yet again during the growing season for frost protection, insect and weed control, or irrigation.
But you can grow cranberries without a bog or flooding. Insects and winter cold rarely threaten backyard cranberries, and you can just weed by hand.
Cranberries, like rhododendron, mountain laurel, azalea, blueberry and other relatives, are finicky about their soil. It needs to be very acidic (pH 4-5), very high in humus, moist and low in fertility. The way to create these soil conditions is to mix a generous amount of peat moss, a kind of humus low in nutrients, into the soil. No need to mix that peat deep into the soil because most cranberry roots delve only 6 inches deep. Further acidify the soil, if necessary, by spreading sulfur.
Cranberries are such dainty plants. The slender, evergreen vines strew themselves over the ground, growing a couple of feet or more in all directions each season. The leaves turn purplish in winter, but spring greens them up again.
Spring also brings small white flowers, which nod downwards from their curved stalks and look much like cranes’ heads, hence the name cranberry.
By late summer, the plants begin to look sort of funny, with fat, shiny, red orbs hanging onto the wiry stems. Those cranberry fruits cling to the plants all winter, so there’s no need to rush the harvest.
A cranberry planting is easy to maintain. Spread more sulfur as needed to maintain soil acidity. Little or no fertilizer is needed.
Commercial growers mulch their bogs each fall with sand to increase rooting of young plants. Instead of sand, which is very heavy, use pine needles, leaves or sawdust. You’ll also part ways with commercial practice when it comes time to harvest: Just step outside, stoop down and pluck berries.