There are several methods of harvesting cranberries. Years ago, cranberries were picked dry using hand scoops. Later, the beds were flooded and longer handles were added to the scoops. Finally, mechanical pickers were introduced.
The dry rake method uses a mechanical picker, but the beds are not flooded. Using the wet rake method, the beds are flooded so the berries will float toward the surface. A mechanical picker called a Getzinger Retracto-Tooth picker then gently combs the berries off the vines. This method causes little bruising and ensures excellent quality fresh fruit. The most common method in the industry is called "beating." A machine with a water reel is driven over the beds. The reel beats the berries off the vines, and they float to the surface of the water. The berries are then corralled and taken off the marsh. This method is used for berries that are to be processed.
During harvest, many growers flood their bogs causing cranberries, which have small air pockets in the center, to rise. Growers then use water-reel harvesting machines to loosen cranberries from their vine causing them to float on top of the water. These machines look like miniature combines with cylindrical spool-shaped metal beaters attached to the front. After floating to the top, berries are corralled onto conveyers to waiting trucks which take them to receiving stations and eventually processing plants where they are used for juice, sauce, and other processed foods.
About 10 percent of cranberries are dry harvested and sold as fresh fruit. To dry harvest, growers use lawn mower-shaped mechanical pickers with comb-shaped conveyer belts that pick the berries and carry them to attached burlap bags. These bags are emptied into bins and delivered to fresh fruit receiving stations where they are graded and screened based on their color and ability to bounce (soft berries will not bounce).
At harvest time, when the berries come off the marsh, they go in a large hopper. From there, they go into a degrasser which removes twigs and vines. Then, they enter the dryer which blows air on the berries to dry off the surface moisture. They are then graded using a mill and then go on to be visually inspected.
The mills used to grade cranberries during harvest were designed almost 100 years ago. Barrels of cranberries used to be loaded onboard ships in the 1800's. Eating the fruit prevented scurvy. Folklore has it that one of these barrels was dropped while onboard. The cranberries spilled out and rolled down the ship's ladder. The good berries bounced down the stairs. The bad berries, however, stayed on the steps. The lesson learned was that good berries will bounce, and that became the basis for sorting cranberries.
The cranberries go in the hopper at the top and are given several chances to bounce off the boards and over the hurdles. If a berry bounces over, it goes on to be visually inspected. If it doesn't bounce, it drops through the mill and is collected in the box below.
Cranberry growers have much to celebrate at harvest time - the serene setting of cranberries being harvested, the beauty of the surrounding environment, the fruits of their long laboring year, and the pride and knowledge that they are continuing a tradition that is an important part of our heritage
If It's Not From The Forest, It's Not Wild!
Mike Poulin,James Bay Wild Fruit