Cranberry Cultivation and Thoreau's Accounts

Cranberry Cultivation and Thoreau's Accounts
Henry David Thoreau was one of the early American authors to write about cranberries and their cultivation.

Henry David Thoreau Writings About Cranberries

Henry David Thoreau wrote extensively about cranberries in his book “Wild Fruits.” One year, he wrote about collecting a boatload of the berries when he just happened to be on the river during the harvest season. The berries were floating on the water. He collected them and sold over two bushels.

Sometimes when the water would get high enough, the berries tended to wash up along the shore. At times, Thoreau was able to collect berries in the flooded marshes where they lasted well into the spring. This was partly due to the fact that the water froze, which preserved the fruits.

Thoreau also wrote about picking the berries during his childhood. He wrote that the berries were a good substitute for vinegar.

The author also mentioned that the berries were cultivated on Cape Cod. According to Thoreau, some growers had ten to twelve acres of cranberries. He explains how the growers added sand to raise the soil level so they could plant the cranberries.

Thoreau quoted a report from the Geological Survey of Canada for 1853, 1855, and 1856 that said the native tribes in Canada collected and sold the berries.

Early History of Cranberry Cultivation

Initially, the white settlers merely bought cranberries from the natives. Within about two centuries, the settlers began finding ways to manage the bogs in order to increase production. Early management practices consisted mainly of using dikes and ditches and other means to control the flow of water into the bogs.

The actual process of planting and growing cranberries slowly began to evolve. The cultivation of cranberries began at different times in the various states and regions. Cape Cod was the first area to actually grow these plants.

The early successful cultivation efforts in Cape Cod encouraged others in neighboring areas, such as New Jersey, to grow cranberries. This was the case in Long Island where small acreages of cranberry bogs were established.

Cranberry culture began in Canada around 1870 in Nova Scotia by William McNeil. Cranberry bogs were later established in other areas of Canada, including British Columbia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island.

Over time, growers developed various methods of growing and harvesting cranberries. Mechanization was one means.

One of the labor saving innovations adopted by cranberry growers was a special cranberry rake. This item was first mentioned around 1833 in The New American Orchardist, which was published in Boston. Using such a rake, a single worker could easily harvest 20 to 50 barrels per day.

One of the early publications on cranberries was by Reverend Benjamin Eastwood. He published a treatise called “the Cranberry and its Culture” in 1855. Eastwood is now considered a cranberry historian.

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