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Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Cranberry Farming

Cranberries are the most popular fruit of the season. In the first part of this series, Tina visits Lee Brothers Farm and talks about the history of farming cranberries in the region.

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Though a well-roasted turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, the ruby-red, glistening side dish of cranberry sauce is always a stand out amongst the other like-hued offerings.

Likewise, the cranberry’s rich color and quirky harvesting make the bitter berry a serving of well-rooted Americana.

Cranberry plants are dwarf evergreen shrubs with vine like woody stems and leathery leaves that can grow up to six-foot long. They are found growing in sandy bogs and marsh lands in Wisconsin, Coastal Massachusetts and Southern New Jersey.

According to kitchenhistory.com, the cranberry was originally called “ibimi” or bitter berry by many eastern Native Americans. The Dutch and German settlers gave it the name of “crane berry” because the flowers look like the bill of a crane. Thus giving us the name we use today, cranberry.

The bright red color and semi-sweet flavor were believed to have many health benefits. Native Americans have many different uses for the berry.

They combined the fruit with deer meat and called it “pemmicanna,” once considered a survival food.

The Cape Cod Pequot and Leni-Lenape Indians in the eastern United States, also used it to make dyes for clothing, rugs and blankets because of its beautiful rich red color. It was also used medicinally.

According to the Natural Resource Educational Foundation/Lighthouse Center, It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when cranberries were planted commercially. In 1816 Henry Hall in Massachusetts was the first to grow the berry for production.

In New Jersey cranberries were first cultivated in 1840 by John Webb. In Ocean County the berries were brought to ship merchants and sailors on whaling ships to be eaten for its Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Now there are over 40,000 acres of cranberry bog in the Northern United States and Canada. New Jersey is the Third largest producer of cranberries. Many bogs producing cranberries today are more than 100 years old. Before the 1800’s, bogs were combed by hand, known as dry harvesting.

Since then things have changed and more efficient ways of harvesting the crops, know today as wet harvesting occur. The bog is flooded in October allowing the berries to float to the top.

Next week Garden Minute will visit one of the oldest Cranberry farms in Burlington County, New Jersey, Lee Brother’s Cranberry farm. The farm has been harvesting cranberries for over a hundred years and is part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. We will talk about their methods of harvesting the cranberries from inside a bog.

A Little Fun Fact:

According to pineypower.com, cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt, New Jersey decided to take cranberries that were less than perfect, bruised or slightly damaged that would normally be tossed in the garbage. She boiled the berries into a jellylike sauce. It is believed that she like the sauce so much she started a business selling her “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce” beginning what is known today as Ocean Spray, which still operates in Chatsworth, New Jersey.

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In the Garden: Made in the Shade

Tina talks about the best plants to use for shady ground cover.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, VIDEO

In the Garden: Asters In Their Natural Habitat

Tina talks about how much taller asters grow when they are in your garden as opposed to the ones in the garden center.

Native Asters put on quite a show this time of year.  Seen along roadsides across the northeastern part of the country asters provide a bold pop of color When other plants and perennials begin to fade into the landscape. They are a staple in many perennial gardens and borders, with clusters of star daisy like flowers.  Colors range from white, pink to  hues of lavender purple and are at the forefront of fall gardens right along side mums, cabbage and winter pansies.

Aster novae-angliae also known as New England aster and novae-belgii, New York asters are North American natives hardy to zones 4-8 and commonly found in your local garden center typically beginning in late August through the fall. They are a key food source for pollinators and wildlife alike.   Late blooming flowers, like asters provide a viable food source necessary to supply much needed energy for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and hummingbirds as they migrate southward.  They are also a pollen source for bees as well, especially honey bees.

In their natural habitat they look different than what you see in local garden centers.  When grown commercially they are typically pruned twice during the summer months to encourage branching to maintain a certain height ranging from six to twelve inches to fourteen inches at the most.  Wild asters can grow up to six feet in height without pruning. They flower effortlessly with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight and are right at home in container gardens as they are growing in garden beds.  Caring for asters are simple and similar to garden mums.   The key is to plant asters in early fall to establish a healthy root system. They prefer full sun to partial shade.  If grown in shady area of the garden plants tend to be leggy and will need to be staked.  Asters are also drought tolerant and do best in well drained soil and can be susceptible to root rot if planted in heavy wet soil. First year plants don’t need to be fertilized heavily, once they are established  begin fertilizing in early spring.  Add organic compost around the base of the plants and use a balanced fertilizer monthly.  Overall plants are relatively maintenance free and are seldom bothered by pests.  Powdery mildew can occur but is no real threat to the plant.  Spraying an organic fungicide early in the season can help prevent it.

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Gardening In The Shade: Easy Tips for Creating A Shady Garden Retreat

Shade Gardens can be as bright and colorful as a sunny garden even with 5 or less hours of direct sunlight. For many people the frustration results from not planting the right plants in the right location.  Another common misconception is that shade gardens don’t have color or flowers, not true. With a little creativity a shady garden can be as colorful as a sunny garden, starting with the right plants.  But before you can plant get to know your yard.

Take a look around your outdoor space. Become aware of where the sun rises and sets.  See how the sun plays upon certain areas of the garden at different times of the day.  You may find areas that are shaded but have dappled sunlight in the morning or indirect light in the late afternoon.  This can make the difference between plants that need partial sun to full shade.  If you have bare spots under trees where grass no longer thrives consider adding a perennial border, they are easy to grow and require little maintenance.

The next step is to assess the condition of the soil.  I recommend testing your soil to determine whether it is acid or alkaline.  You can purchase an at home testing kit or send a sample off to your local government extension office to get an in-depth analysis of your soil.  Knowing what nutrients your soil needs is a big part of how successful plants will grow in a specific area.  Soil in shaded areas can tell two different stories.  It can be extremely dry, especially underneath mature trees and too moist in locations where drainage is poor.  Adding compost helps to condition and break down soil and improve drainage.

A shade garden is a great way to experiment with colors, tones and textures.  When designing the garden keep colors light, avoid plants with dark foliage, bright colors like lime green, and variegated leaves can brighten up dark areas.  Dark foliage plants are usually offset by white flowers and work when planted against bright green foliage or flowering Astilbe.

Pink Astilbe ‘Rhineland’ offsets dark purple foliage

Hosta is one of the most popular shade plants and for good reason.  It looks best when planted in full shade. It’s  stalks of fragrant lavender or white trumpet flowers are the perfect accent to the large heart shaped leaves.  Planting Hosta in the sun does not capture its beauty.  Leaves become burned and color looses intensity.  When Choosing Hosta go for large leaf varieties like Sum and Substance.  It’s large display of lime green leaves is show stopper.  Colors range from blue and lime greens as well as variegated.  Perennial varieties of Heuchera, offer a wide range colors to add depth and texture, with their scalloped and ruffled leaves. Fern varieties are great texture and Astible can provide both flowering color and texture.

Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’ , Hygrangea quercifolia, ‘Oakleaf ‘ provide big white blooms and thrive in full shade. These are some of the plants and shrubs for shade, just to name a few.  I suggest you do your research before you head out to the garden center to buy plants.  Other design tips to consider are planting flowering perennials that bloom in succession. You want to have a colorful blooming garden from spring to fall.

‘Annabelle Hydrangeas

Remember it’s your garden in the shade, follow your inner designer and don’t forget to add a bench or garden to seat so you can stop, sit and admire your hard work.

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Fall Mums: A Perennial Favorite For Late Season Color In The Garden

Fall is a season of new beginnings, the days are shorter and the temperatures cooler.  The landscape becomes bursting with rich colors of burgundy red, gold, purple and yellow. Hardy mums are front and center of the fall garden along with pumpkins and gourds.  Whether you grow them as seasonal annuals or perennials that come back in the garden every year mums give your landscape a pop of color from September to November.  If you find them to be a bit fussy and a challenge look no further we have the answers.

Mums are an easy to grow low-maintenance plant that grows equally well in garden beds and mixed containers.  They are drought resistant and relatively pest free.  Planting mums in the garden is a great way to add late season color to your landscape. They continually bloom for weeks at a time and prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  Preparing the soil for mums requires adding quality compost to the existing garden beds. Improving the condition of heavy dense soil improves growing conditions for the plants. Mums prefer well-drained soil.

Watering mums can be a challenge.  The most common problem is overwatering.  As mentioned above garden Mums are drought tolerant.  Overwatering can lead to leaves wilting, which can be  mistaken for being too dry.  This is common problem for those who have outdoor irrigation in place.  If this has happened to you take a hands off approach, meaning ‘back off’ of regularly or daily watering.  As the daylight decreases and nights turn cooler plants are not drying out as quickly as they do in a garden during the summer months.  If you are growing Mums in containers allow the soil to dry thoroughly.  Physically checking the soil daily with your hand is helpful.  If the pot or container feels light in weight and the soil feels dry then proceed with watering.  Avoid the mums drying and wilting.  Letting them go too dry too long will diminish the blooms and color.

Fertilize mums in mixed container gardens using Jack’s Classic blossom booster 10-30-20 or All -Purpose 20-20-20.  Plants in the garden should be planted using Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Fertilizer the first year.  Then fertilize monthly the second year of growth from May to August.

Hardy mums can tolerate the frosty cool nights in the fall and can easily be overwintered for the next season.  The key to successfully overwintering mums is to plant early. Planting in early fall allows the plants to become established before winter.  Once a hard frost occurs stems and leaves will turn black.  Cut plant back leaving an inch to one and a half inches above the ground and cover with mulch. Garden Mums can grow naturally to heights of 12-48 inches. To keep plants compact and encourage more branching pinch back plant tips twice during the summer months.  First pinching occurs in June. When plant has grown 6-8 inches pinch tops off each branch about 2 inches.  Pinch again in July, 2 inches off each branch from the new growth.  This will strengthen plants and encourage blooming.

Falls rich display of colorful garden mums are unmistakable and a welcome sight after a long hot summer.