Cranberry farmer visits Mattapoisett Historical Society

By Tanner Harding | Nov 06, 2016
Photo by: Tanner Harding Woody Hartley holds up a traditional cranberry picker.

Mattapoisett — Ever wonder where the cranberries in your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce came from?

Rochester cranberry farmer Woody Hartley stopped by the Mattapoisett Historical Society on Sunday afternoon to talk about the work that goes into cultivating and harvesting the cranberries used for that Thanksgiving staple.

Hartley owns the Hartley-Rhodes, Inc. farm with his brother, on land they bought from their mother, who inherited it from her father. The Hartley bogs are truly a family affair.

When the brothers bought the land and decided to start a cranberry farm, they had to build the bogs from scratch. While many cranberry bogs are former swamps, taking whichever shape occurred naturally, the Hartleys were able to design bogs and their own three-acre pond. While the Sippican River flows close by, all of the water used in the bogs come from the pond the Hartleys dug.

“These shapes of bogs are typical of a Wisconsin bog, not Massachusetts bogs,” Hartley said of the long, narrow rectangular bogs.

The brothers had two bogs built a year, totaling the eight bogs they currently have near the intersection of Walnut Plain Road and Marion Road.

The bogs have two types of cranberries in them, Stevens cranberries and Howes cranberries. The Stevens are a bigger berry, and less common in Massachusetts, while the Howes cranberries were discovered right on Cape Cod, in East Dennis.

Having two different types of cranberries was what Hartley called a “business decision.”

A lot goes into protecting those vines that were planted, particularly during the cold winters. Passersby may have noticed kids skating on the frozen bogs during the winter, but it turns out icing the bogs serves as more than a recreational purpose.

“We ice the bogs so we can put sand on the ice, and when it melts, the sand will renew the vines,” Hartley said. “It also protects the vines.”

Come spring, when the ice melts and its time for another growing season, the Hartleys have to take another step to ensure a successful harvest in the fall — renting bees.

“There aren’t enough bees naturally to pollinate all those flowers,” Hartley said. “We rent either bumble bees or honey bees for about six weeks.”

Each hive will pollinate about an acre of land, so with a little over 11 acres of bogs, the Hartleys bring in 12 bee hives to help out.

The Hartleys also bring in help to fertilize the bogs. Every year, they hire a helicopter to fly about 50 feet over the bogs and drop fertilizer.

“It takes less than 10 minutes and it’s very accurate,” Hartley said.

After the summer is over and it’s time to harvest the cranberries, farmers have two options. They can either dry-pick the bogs or they can wet-pick the berries. Up until 2015, the Hartleys wet-picked their bogs.

This process requires another eight inches of water in the bogs to flood them. Then the berries will float up to the top and a picker can go through and knock the berries free from their stems. Then, a water pump is used to suck the water and the berries out of the bogs.

Last year, the Hartley's switched to dry-picking their berries.

“Nature had a good thing going, then man took it took it too far and we’re out-cranberrying ourselves,” Hartley said. “Prices have dropped for cranberries because there are too many.”

Dry-picking is a little more labor intensive and takes a bit longer, but prices are higher for dry-picked berries, so Hartley said it's worth it. This fall, he said it took about three weeks for him, his extended family and some friends to pick the bogs. They finished at the end of October.

The Hartley farm sells its berries to Decas Cranberry Products, most of which have already been packaged and sent to stores already.

“Paradise Meadows is what it says on the package,” Hartley said. “So make sure you’re buying Paradise Meadows cranberries.”

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