Friday, December 4, 2015

3 Phases of Growing Cranberries

If you’ve been keeping up with communEATi lately, you’ve probably seen us feature cranberries, everyone’s favorite holiday fruit! Tart and tasty, cranberries are commonly used in a variety of sauces, pies, and juices. Cranberries are also well-known for their healing qualities, due in large part to their high concentration of vitamin C and antioxidants. And while growing cranberries may bring to mind acres of flooded bog land, that’s actually not necessary to the cultivating process.

That said, cranberries aren’t exactly an “easy” fruit to grow either. They require a lot of attention and a lot of water. So if you’re up for a gardening challenge, here’s how to grow cranberries:

Planting the Cranberries
First you’ll need to choose what variety of cranberry you’d like to grow. We recommend Howes cranberries (smaller) or Stevens cranberries (larger) for first time growers.

Cranberries are best grown in cooler climates, between zones two and five. Cuttings (1-year-old plants) and seedlings (3-year-olds) can be planted throughout autumn (Oct.-Nov.) and in springtime (Apr.-May). Cranberries need soil with a low pH and a high level of organic matter. It’s often necessary to replace your existing soil instead of trying to alter it:
  • -Plan your plot for 4’ by 8’. You can also use a 2’ by 2’ planter for a single plant.
  • -Dig out the existing soil to a depth of 6-8”. Fill the plot with peat moss, then mix in ½ lb. of bone meal and 1 lb. of blood meal. Wet the soil thoroughly without saturating it.
  • -Plant cuttings 1’ apart and 2” deep; plant seedlings 3’ apart and 2” deep.

Caring for Your Cranberries
Cranberry plants do not compete well against weeds, so it’s very important to weed the bed regularly. Luckily, the peat moss used in your plot will inhibit the growth of most weeds.

Make sure to keep your plants well-watered. The soil should always be wet or damp to the touch, but be sure not to oversaturate or submerge your plants. Too much water can slow down root growth and prevent them from reaching the necessary depth.

Soon after planting, your cranberry plants will start to put out runners, which will fill the bed before taking root and sprouting “uprights,” which is the part of the plant that grows flowers and fruit. You’ll need to fertilize your bed well to encourage the growth of these runners:
  • -For the first year after planting, fertilize your bed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer 3 times: at the beginning of growth, when the flowers bud, and when the berries start forming.
  • -After the first year, use a non-nitrogen fertilizer to encourage the runners to take root.
  • -At the start of the second year (and every couple years after that), cover the soil with a thin (½”) layer of sand to help root the runners and prevent weeds.

Pests and diseases are relatively easy to deal with if you know what you’re looking for with cranberries. A common pest is fruitworms, which come from gray moths eggs in the berries. If you spot gray moths around your plants, spray the plot with insecticides to kill the eggs. Other common diseases are red spot and berry fruit rot. You can treat these by spraying the plants with an organic, copper-based fungicide between late June and early August.

From the third year of growth onwards, you’ll need to prune your plants each spring to control the runners and encourage uprights. Comb the cranberry plot with a landscape rake until all the runners are going in the same direction, and cut the longest back. Don’t prune existing uprights.

Harvest Time
If you planted seedlings, your cranberry plant may be producing fruit by the following autumn. If you planted cuttings, however, you may need to wait 3-4 years before your plant produces fruit.
  • -Your berries should be ready to harvest in September and October each year
  • -Ripe berries will be a bright or dark red color (depending on variety) with brown seeds.
  • -Fresh cranberries keep up to 2 months when stored in the fridge in an airtight container.
    • -Cooked cranberries can last in the fridge for up to a month.
    • -Dried cranberries can keep for up to a year.
Cover your plot with a heavy layer of mulch to prevent your plants from freezing over the winter. You can uncover the plants in springtime (around April 1st), but cover them any night you expect frost. Never cover your plants with clear or black plastic, though, as this could kill them.

Once your cranberry plants are in place and thriving, imagine the uses you’ll find for them throughout the holiday season! What are some of your favorite cranberry-inclusive recipes? Tell us about them in the comments! And don’t forget to follow communEATi on Facebook and Twitter for more information on all things homegrown.

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