The Nantucket Conservation Foundation looks after the only remaining commercial cranberry bog on the island. They honor the 200-year history of cranberry farming on the island and protect the delicate wetlands, hardwood forests, and open spaces around the bog. This is all part of the mission to preserve Nantucket’s unique and fragile ecosystems.
The cranberry is one of the native fruits from North America that are farmed commercially. The Native Americans were the first to use this wild berry for fabric dye, as a healing agent, and as food.
The first attempts at cultivating the cranberry started around 1816, after Captain Henry Hall of Dennis, Massachusetts, noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs thrived when sand was blown over them. On Nantucket Island, this fruit has grown since 1857 and became a major part of the economy as the whaling industry waned. Until shortly prior to World War II, the cranberry was still a major contributor to the economy. In 1968, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation began to manage the Island’s only remaining commercial cranberry bog, and this has been their stewardship to this day.
Cranberries are truly one-of-a-kind fruit, requiring specific conditions to grow and thrive: an acidic peat soil, a steady supply of fresh water, sand, and a lengthy growing season from April to November. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries don’t need water to thrive – they do best in water-proof sand, peat, gravel, and clay beds. This combination of materials creates an environment that allows cranberry plants to flourish.
Getting a new cranberry crop ready for harvest calls for some special care. Weeds need to be pulled in the spring. In the summer, the plants require fertilizing; in the fall, pruning is necessary to keep the vines at their optimal size. For sure, the bogs don’t dry out in hot weather. An intricate water distribution system must be put in place.
Nantucket is home to two main varieties of cranberry. The Early Black variety is small and has a black-red hue; it is usually harvested in late September. The Howes variety is bigger, oblong-shaped, and has a medium-red color; it is usually picked from early October to November. In the past, cranberries were picked by hand – nowadays, however, growers use a selection of mechanical pickers that are easier and more gentle on the plants.
When it comes to cranberries harvested on Nantucket, the process of turning them into products like juices, sauces, and dried cranberries involves some steps. First, they are washed to remove leaves, twigs, and other debris. Afterward, they are sorted, the good ones bagged, and sent to freezer storage for further processing. If you want to know the harvesting details, this website is just the place for you!
Cranberries offer a wealth of health benefits, such as dietary fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids, phenols, and other compounds. These nutrients help to protect against illnesses like urinary tract infections and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Enjoying a serving of cranberries can be a delicious way to invest in your long-term health.
The nearby protected conservation area offers many walking trails, leading to thousands of acres of Foundation-owned land. Working with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, the Foundation is currently designing a plan to restore Windswept Bog as a naturally functioning wetland. This venture seeks to create an environment for native species to thrive while simultaneously enhancing water quality and supporting watersheds while still allowing the public to utilize and appreciate the property.
Join the Milestone Bog during the Cranberry Festival to witness the Foundation’s cranberry harvesting! The Windswept Cranberry Bog is where the joyous celebration of the Nantucket emblem takes place. During the celebration, people can take bog tours and go on hayrides. It’s a wonderful experience to come and partake in this festive event.