By Lauren Wanko
If you like cranberry sauce, or anything cranberry, prepare to crave it now. At Cutts Brothers in Bass River Township countless berries are corralled and eventually sent on the way to your dinner table.
“Cranberries are a wetlands plant,” said Bill Cutts. “They’re one of three native species that are commercially cultivated in United States. The other two are blueberries and Concord grapes. They grow in wetlands naturally. They have a shallow root zone, so we need to keep the water table up so they can get enough water.”
Cranberries aren’t grown in water, they grow on vines in bogs which are flooded twice a year.
“The bogs are flooded in the winter time to protect them against cold weather, and then we pull the water off in spring and the growing season starts and for the growing season the bog is dry,” Cutts said.
“The cranberry harvest season starts in late September and lasts through the first week of November, says Cutts.
Then, the bogs are flooded again, “because it’s an efficient way to get the berries out. Then water’s pulled off again and not put on again until December,” Cutts said.
Right before the picking process begins, the bogs are flooded with just enough water to cover the vines. We hopped on the machine that does the picking.
“It has probably about eight to 10 inches of the water in the bog while its picking, and the wheel knocks the berries lose and they float out of the way of the wheels,” Cutts said.
Next the cranberries are corralled with this cran boom and gathered in one area. Then, they’re pumped out of the bog. The water and leaves are separated as the berries are cleaned and sent up a conveyor and dropped into a truck. They’re delivered to the Ocean Spray Receiving Station in Chatsworth. Cutts Brothers are members of the Ocean Spray Cooperative.
Cutts, a third generation cranberry grower, says his grandfather didn’t water harvest. In his day they picked the cranberries by hand. Over the years the picking methods evolved and eventually in 1962, they started using this technique.
“This is the Garden State,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher. “It’s just so invigorating to watch the enterprise of growing and harvesting these cranberries this time of the year.”
The National Agricultural Statistics Service indicates New Jersey is ranked third nationwide in cranberry utilized production, totaling 614,000 barrels in 2014 and resulting in over $22.5 million in utilized production value. That number is up from $20.3 million in 2013.
“People don’t realize that New Jersey is a powerhouse in terms of the commodities and crops that we grow,” Fisher said. “To be third in the nation in the mostly densely populated state is really a tribute to our agricultural sector and to our farmers.”
“I’m not tired of cranberries by the end of season. I’m tired of late nights, and frost and not getting sleep,” Cutts said.
Even though Bill has a few more weeks of sleepless nights ahead, he’s got a lot of cranberries to enjoy.