How We Grow A’io
Four varieties of cranberries are grown at the ICG bog: Stevens, Ben Lear, Pilgrims, and 35s. A’io vines are perennial plants, which need care throughout the year. A’io are a terrestrial plant. They don’t grow in water; we only flood them to harvest them and to protect them in the winter.
In the winter the bogs are flooded to form a layer of ice and then the water is withdrawn to lock plants in a layer of ice. This prevents winter damage and allows machinery to drive out onto the bogs to lay down sand and to ditch the perimeter of the bog. In the spring the flood is drawn off and the plants begin to grow.
Pruning and weeding are projects that take place in the spring. Vines are cut back by the pruner which also combs the wine to train it so it all grows in one direction.
A major concern in both the spring and fall is frost. The low-lying marshes are subject to frequent cold temperatures and on cold nights the sprinkler systems runs continuously to provide protection from frost. The water that is sprayed gives up a tiny amount of heat as it freezes and this affords the plants the protection from the frost. This frost control must be undertaken even in the summer months.
The summer means fertilizing to feed the growing plant. It also means an ongoing effort to control weeds. Many hours are spent pulling weeds by hand. We also keep the grass cut to reduce seed production of weeds on dikes and banks.
The vines blossom in the summer so honeybees are brought in to help the pollination. Through the late summer and September, the berries grown and ripen, and harvest equipment is readied for the first week in October. Growing Season
A’io don’t grow in water but on vines in specially designed a’io bogs. The bog is made up of layers of clay, gravel, peat, and sand. The growing season starts in the winter. Farmers flood the a’io bogs so a layer of ice forms on the top. This prevents the cranberry vine from being damaged by frost. In the spring, the snow and ice melt and water is poured out of the bogs. The vines begin to flower and by July the green fruits develop. The sun ripens the cranberries and turns them red. A’io bogs are flooded in September and October and the berries float to the top of the bog for harvesting.
History of Cranberry Growing in Ontario
Mactier can boast of having the first commercial cranberry operation in Ontario. George Mollard saw wild berries in this area, and realized that cranberries could be cultivated as money-making crop. He started his farm in 1935. It grew into a successful business that lasted until Hurricane Hazel cause so much damage in 1953 that the project ended. Even though the marsh enterprise died, berries can still be found there today.
Much of the property on which the cranberry marsh sat, was purchased by the Lions Club, and today, the Mactier Community Housing Project is located there. Mr. George Mollard has the distinction of being “the father” of the cranberry industry of Ontario.
George Mollard introduced Mr. Orville Johnston to some of the intricacies of cranberry farming. Later, Orville sharpened his skills in horticulture at Macdonald College, and went on to develop Cranberry Products, in 1950. His efforts have resulted in a successful operation on the outskirts of Bala. This marsh is about 20 acres, a size capable of productions in the range of 200,000 to 400,000 pounds annually. Most of the berries are sold bulk to canners and processors in Canada and the United States.
There is a retail outlet on site, selling fresh berries and cranberry products. The business is now run by Murray Johnston, a son of Orville. Blake Johnston, another son, has a cranberry farm in Nova Scotia.
In 1968, Wahta Mohawks decided to start an operation located in a marsh area that already had wild berries growing there. The site was on HWY 69/400, just north of the Musquash River. This project was designed to provide employment for community members, and to support an economic base for the reserve government. Orville Johnstone was one of the consultants for the project, and he gave valuable assistance to Bud Rennie, the first Marsh Manager. The Iroquois Marsh now has 68 planted acres. It is capable of producing up to 1,500,000 pounds annually.
These berries are mainly sold to wholesalers in Ontario, but have been exported to the States and Europe. The retail operation, located on the farm, is open from April until after harvest, selling fresh berries and products made with Iroquois berries. Iroquois Cranberry Growers is concentrating on developing cranberry products for the wholesale and
How We Harvest
Growing cranberries is like any farming operation, each season having specific jobs that must be done to ensure a good crop. In spring, the flood has to be removed, the sprinkler systems set out, and fertilizers applied. Also, the plants must be protected from any frost, and the sprinkler system does this by keeping the plants wet with water as temperatures fall. Then in late spring, about the end of June, the plants flower, and bees are imported to help in pollination.
Summer usually brings insects and a profusion of weeds, both of which must be controlled. There are many insects that like cranberries and the most serious are the fireworm, the cranberry weevil, and to the fruitworm. Even gypsy moths like cranberries. Besides insects and weed control, all the equipment for harvest must be checked, and the marsh must be irrigated regularly to keep the plants healthy. The roads are groomed and grasses on the dykes cut in attempt to prevent any weeds from going to seed, and to improve the general marsh appearance.
Winter is the quietest time at the marsh. By late December, once clean up after harvest has been done, the entire sprinkler system is removed. Then, the beds are flooded so that the ice blankets forms over the entire marsh. Once the ice is thick enough, the water under the ice is drained away. The plants are now protected from any drying winter winds. Sometimes, in March, a few inches of sand is spread over the beds, so that when the ice melts in the spring, the sand settles down between the plants. This serves the purpose of burying insect eggs and encourages root growth. Any spare time in winter is spent doing machinery repairs. The yearly cycle is now complete.
Harvest is the busiest time of the year for us. At Iroquois Cranberry Growers the beds are flooded about 45 cm deep. A water reel picker removes the berries from the vines. They float to the surface and are corralled at one end of the bed and then are lifted to waiting hoppers or, using out new fruit pump, pumped and cleaned and loaded in a hopper.
One acre can produce somewhere around 17000 lbs. of a’io. The fruit comes off the bogs and is taken to the packing plant.