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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Eight-week cranberry harvest begins in mid-September, just in time for Thanksgiving Day meals

By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Cranberries have been a part of Thanksgiving from its very first celebration in 1620 when Squanto and the Wampanoag people of current-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, added them to the celebration of the Pilgrim’s arrival in America.

The native people had long used them as food.

Today, cranberries are grown in New England, Wisconsin and on the coasts of Oregon and Washington. That bag of bright red berries you picked up for your feast might have come from Long Beach or Grayland on the coast. So how do these berries make it to your Thanksgiving Day feast?

Ardell McPhail of Cran Mac Farms Inc. and her family have been growing cranberries in Long Beach for 40 years. Long Beach is on the very southern end of the Washington coast. The McPhail farm produces about 105 acres of berries while their son grows another 23 nearby.

“We do it because we love the outside work and working with the plants,” McPhail said. ” We just finished this year’s harvest, and it was a good crop.”

The McPhail farm has three long-term employees and a few seasonal workers at harvest time.

Cranberries grow in mucky peat soil often termed a bog that is topped with beach sand to help with weed and pest control. Contrary to popular conception, the only time a cranberry bog is flooded is at harvest time. In the spring the McPhails begin the season by bringing in bees to pollinate the plants.

“Late frosts can be a problem some years,” McPhail said.

They then lay down Casaron, a preemergent herbicide to help control the weeds, including the dreaded horsetail that can easily crowd out a crop. Through the summer they monitor the fields for weeds, bugs and fungus.

Starting in mid-September they start their eight-week harvest cycle. “We have several different varieties of berries that ripen at different times,” McPhail said.

The night before harvest, the bog is flooded with about 12 inches of water. In the morning they use a machine with paddles called a beater that churns through the field knocking off the berries that float to the surface and tearing up the nonproducing runners. The field is then flooded to 18 inches and the berries are gathered by using board booms and loaded into a truck to be taken to the Ocean Spray’s washing and packing plant in Markum.

The McPhails’ berries are used to make cranberry sauce or dried cranberries. In Grayland, north of the McPhail farm, berries are harvested from dry bogs and go into the fresh berry market.

Most of the Washington and Oregon cranberry crop is sold to the Ocean Spray cooperative that serves nearly 700 cranberry growers in the U.S. and Canada.

McPhail serves on the Washington Growers Council that oversees the 28 growers in Long Beach and 100 in Grayland. After the berries are washed in the Markum plant, they are shipped to other plants to be made into juice, fresh and dried fruit.

— Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com

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