It’s a hot July morning and I’m driving down a winding dirt driveway in the middle of nowhere in West Barnstable on Cape Cod, wondering if I’ve taken a wrong turn. A cranberry bog should be around the next corner, I tell myself. Finally, I end up flanked by bogs on each side of the road, filled with fields of green cranberries growing in the hot sun.
I find David Ross, the owner of Cape Cod Cranberry Bog Tours, who waves me down, and I pull up next to his truck. Casually dressed in jeans and a Cape Cod Beer T-shirt, he tells me there are five bogs here that comprise some 80 acres and several varieties of cranberries. This is just one of his Cape Cod Cranberry Bog Tours properties.
On the sunny summer day that I visited, he tells me that the bloom season has just ended; the white cranberry flowers have turned to berries. They are small and green and some of them are beginning to show a slight tinge of red. Ross says that while visitors are usually focused on the one-day harvest in October – that seemingly magical day when the robust red berries float to the top of the water-lined bog before being rounded up – cranberry growing is a 365-day a year process.
Ross purchased the bogs in the 1980s and spent his entire first year under the tutelage of the former owner whom he affectionately refers to as the old-timer. “When I first bought this place, the old-timer would call me at five o’clock every morning and ask, ‘You ready?’,” Ross reminisces. “He was testing me, seeing if I was worthy of bog life. Every morning I’d tell him, ‘Sure am.’”
Just over the bridge, Middleboro, Mass., is known as the “Cranberry Capital.” Dawn Gates-Allen, director of member and financial services for the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association grew up in Middleboro, and cranberries are in her blood. Gates-Allen is a fourth-generation cranberry grower. “I was born into this industry and I dragged my husband into it,” she laughs. Her great-grandmother started growing bogs in Rochester and Freetown, Mass., nearly 100 years ago.
Middleboro is also home to the headquarters of Ocean Spray, which is not just a company that manufactures cranberry juice and other cranberry-related products, but is a grower-owned cooperative which the majority of Massachusetts growers belong to.
What Is a Bog?
Simply put, a bog is a wetland that has one continuous dyke around it, according to Glen Reid, assistant manager of cranberry operations at AD Makepeace Company in Wareham, Mass. The company was started by Abel Denison Makepeace in 1854 and now has the distinction of being the world’s largest grower of cranberries, with some 2,000 acres of operations and 14,000 acres of properties in Massachusetts.
On cranberry bog tours, here and at other farms, visitors can learn the history of cranberry bogs in Massachusetts, as well as the fruit’s unique growing and harvesting process.
Growing and Harvesting
The cranberry vine, which is related to a rhododendron, goes dormant in the winter, and periodically the entire bog is put underwater for about two weeks so that a layer of ice will protect the developing flower buds from the elements.
Sometimes, every three years or so, a layer of sand will be spread across the bog to help the plants re-root themselves and ward off pests. As the plant will produce berries for two or three seasons, this isn’t necessary every year; in fact, some vines have been continuously producing for 100 years.
In the spring, the water is pumped out and the plants will begin to flower. “Then we bring in the bees,” says Reid. It takes two bee hives per acre (at about 40,000 bees per hive) to pollinate the flowers. Flowering continues into July, when most or all flowers have become berries.
It takes until mid-September, early October for the berries to fully develop their signature red color. Then, it’s harvest time! The bog is flooded, and a picking machine – a contraption that looks like a big lawnmower – shakes up and dislodges the cranberries from the vine, causing them to float up to the top to be gathered. It’s the quintessential cranberry bog photo op.
Cranberry Bogs in Massachusetts
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association will not be having in-person tours for 2020. Check their website for virtual tours being offered during the harvest season and to plan for next year.
Individual farms may be doing tours on a small scale. See websites below for more information and safety requirements.
12 Friend St., Berkley
Spring Rain Farm
692 Caswell St., East Taunton
Stone Bridge Farm
86 Leonard St., Acushnet
(508) 951-1551; (508) 951-1902
Fresh Meadows Farm
39 North Main St. (Route 58), Carver
(508) 866-7136; (508) 840-0867
Flax Pond Farms
58 Pond St., Carver
73 Tremont St., Carver
6 Pine St., Middleboro
AD Makepeace Company
158 Tihonet Rd., Wareham
2667 Cranberry Hwy., Wareham
60A Roos Rd., Sandwich
36 Scarsdale Rd., Dennis
Brooks Academy Museum
80 Parallel St., Harwich
Cape Cod Cranberry Bog Tours
The Governor Prence Inn
66 Route 6A, Orleans
Have you ever been on a cranberry bog tour? Does it sound like something you would be interested in? Tell us in the comments!
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