University of Tennessee State Apiculturist John Skinner has recently been part of a research project to find out more about the pollination of cranberries and other berries in the eastern United States. Below is his report, which was originally published in The Hive Tool, the newsletter of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association.
The Amazing Cranberry –Bogs, Bees and Berries
By John Skinner, Professor and UT Extension Bee Specialist
Recently I returned from a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where Michael Wilson and I videotaped and photographed blooming cranberry bogs and the people that make this successful. This is a continuation of the cooperative project that started last year with low bush blueberry in Maine.
Our Maine cooperator, Dr. Frank Drummond participated in the TBA convention last year. I returned from this trip in awe of such a unique crop, its rich American history, the balance of maintaining a bog environment and the challenges getting this crop pollinated.
Dr. Anne Averill, Entomologist from the University of Massachusetts and her technician and great organizer sister Marty escorted us from bog to bog. We interviewed growers, industry representatives, cranberry association people, and scientists studying all aspects of cranberry production and pollination.
Cranberry is a plant that grows native from the Carolinas to the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Cape Cod is the birthplace of the industry. The plant requires acidic peat soils, coarse sand, a constant water supply and a long frost free season. The area around Plymouth is ideal for this crop. In the 1880s the Cape Cod Cranberry Association was formed.
One of the key growers was A.D. Makepeace whose company became a giant in the industry and one of the original Ocean Spray cooperative. We interviewed Chris Makepeace, great, great grandson of A.D., who told us the original bogs were whatever shape the glaciers scoured out but new ones planted with hybrid varieties are rectangular to conform with equipment needed to maintain, irrigate, spray and harvest.
It costs $35,000 per acre to renovate a bog but new varieties can have twice and many flowers and set a much larger harvest than the original ones.
Bumble bees are required to buzz the flowers to release pollen from the anthers in a manner similar to blueberry.
Other bees, especially honey bees, move this pollen around as they forage for nectar. The plants are self fertile but require a pollinator to release the pollen. The flowers resemble a blueberry flower that has had the petals separated and pulled backward. Each plant stalk can set from three to ten fruit depending on cultivar, ideal weather and moisture and pollination. The growers harvest the bog by either flooding or drier mechanical harvesting. We stood at the exact location where the Ocean Spray commercials are made at harvest time.
This year may be a big challenge because beekeepers were delayed bringing colonies from Maine blueberry pollination and due to cold conditions this winter and spring in Maine, many colonies died and were weakened, requiring the beekeepers to rework them before they went into cranberry.
We saw a holding yard where beekeepers unloaded several tractor trailers full of colonies. The air was thick with bees, some buzzing our car from quarter mile away. I wanted to interview a beekeeper, but they were just too busy.
I will have more information coming and we will produce several videos to add to the 5 we have made about blueberry pollination. Please go to our website and check it out.
John A. Skinner
Professor and Apiculture Specialist
University of Tennessee
2505 E.J. Chapman Drive
370 Plant Biotechnology Building
Knoxville, TN 37996-4560
Key words: John Skinner, University of Tennessee, cranberry bogs, blueberries, pollinators, Tennessee State Apiculturist, Ocean Spray, bumblebees, The Hive Tool, Tennessee Beekeepers Association