"Turfing" in renovation of cranberry bogs

Final Report for FNE10-685

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $12,700.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Friedrich
The Edible Yard
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Project Information

Summary:

Renovating and replanting cranberry acreage is expensive. In addition to the outlay of monies for these activities, it takes several years before the vines are able to produce a reliable saleable crop. Any practice that would shorten the length of time from renovation to harvest would improve the farmer’s bottom line significantly. The goal for this project was to see if we could shorten the length of time between renovation to harvest by evaluating three different methods of replanting: planting with rooted cuttings, turfing and pruned (unrooted) vines.

Unfortunately, the turfing portion of the project was not completed because a partner did not supply the needed equipment to accomplish this. A repeat of the full scale renovation project is proposed for 2015 on the remaining 2.2 acres. I do not recommend turfing on any scale other than a backyard. The cost of labor and equipment in moving vines, weeds ,insects and disease onto a new bog surface does not seem economically viable.

The focus of the project turned to the evaluation of planting rooted cuttings with a new variety called Scarlet Knight (obtained from Integrity Propagation). Organic management of cranberry bogs should be taken as a whole farm system. Newly renovated bogs are good candidates for organic production. The fill in rate for the research plugs and the Scarlet Knight plugs seems to be about the same. We anticipate a 2015 harvest on both areas. The initial cost of renovation is high therefore having a clean new vine stock is essential.

Introduction:

Holmes Farm is a 4.2 acre USDA certified organic cranberry farm, with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and a Farm stand. Blueberries, Flowers, Tomatoes, Greens and Herbs are examples of the crops grown in the remaining 18 acres. Holmes Farm is a climate-change resiliency project and is run by The Edible Yard, licensed from The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Holmes Farm is historic and scenic, located only 1500 feet from the ocean just south of Plymouth, MA. Holmes Farm is currently the only CSA farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The newly renovated 1.6 acres of organic cranberry vines will produce their first full crop in 2015. Currently Holmes Farm is a working example of a diversified and sustainable commercial farm operation.

Jennifer Friedrich, Dom Fernandes and Melissa Colangelo were engaged in the initial intent for the project. In the mid Summer 2010, Jennifer Friedrich assumed sole responsibility for the project. The Edible Yard, Jennifer’s business, assumed management of the renovation and farm. Dr. Hilary Sandler, Extension Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Cranberry Station, was the technical advisor.

Project Objectives:

The method of turfing will be evaluated based on cost, harvestable yield, return
on investment and ease of renovation. One method will be cutting four inch deep
slices of the bog surface. Alternatively, we will set the slice depth to three inches.
A traditional renovation plot will be established with stripping the bog then
planting rooted and unrooted cuttings. This study will continue to be evaluated for
establishment rate and eventually yield. The cost of turfing sections are slightly
higher than renovating with stripping then planting rooted and unrooted cuttings,
but preliminary work suggests better establishment. Higher earlier yields may
more than make up the initial expense.

• Map the bog to show the process of turfing set up a “control” to
demonstrate current process of renovation.

• Using commercial turfing equipment, strip from the turf area, roll up and
load onto truck. 1 week-one commercial sod cutter, one loader, two
trucks, two operators, four workers

• Transport turf sections to prepared bed (stripped and leveled) Lay down
turf strips and establish with growth runners going counter clockwise (for
easier dry harvesting methods.) 1 Week- 6 workers

• Apply 2” sand to fill in around turfed sections for uniform establishment.

• All plots will get late water in the spring.

• All plots will be treated the same for management of insects and diseases.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Melissa Colangelo
  • Dom Fernandes

Research

Materials and methods:

Cranberries are a low-growing vine that forms a mat on the bog surface. This mat is about 3”-4” thick. In this project, we proposed using this mat to replant a bog. A turf cutter would cut the surface of the bog and the farmer would then lay it like laying turf grass. We initially proposed to strip off existing weeds from an out-of-grade bog and deposit new sand on a clean, level surface in the research plot. The second and third methods included the use of rooted cuttings (plugs) to replant a portion or the use of cut (unrooted) vines. The rooted plugs were harvested from the out of grade bog and potted in the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, the turfing portion of the project was not completed. This portion of the project relied on in-kind contributions of equipment and time from the other two partners. Since Ms. Friedrich needed to continue the project on her own without the necessary equipment, the project focus had to be re-directed away from the turfing aspect.

The focus of the project turned to the evaluation of planting rooted cuttings with a new variety called Scarlet Knight (obtained from Integrity Propagation). Scarlet Knight is a high-yielding fingerprinted variety, bred for early color, good keeping quality and excellent for dry harvesting (important for organic cranberries). Jennifer planted 1.6 acres of Scarlet Knight (SK) plugs into a newly renovated area topped with 8” of clean sand. The bog had a new dike, 2 new flumes, a tailwater recovery pond, popup irrigation heads and new main line. In 2014, this entire system including automated irrigation, vegetable fields, high tunnel, cooler and farmstand will be integrated to include a “smart” control including an “App”. The farm and components will be accessed on a smart phone and will be powered by a solar array.

The research plot at this time has not been turfed as stated in the project proposal. We are planning to repeat the renovation on the remaining 2.2 acres in 2015 including the proposed turf research plot. As with the renovation of the first 1.6 acres, we will hire professional bog contractors to strip, truck the sand and laser level the bog.

We used clean, screened graded bank sand from a local site; a dump truck and a skid steer to load and dump the sand. A mini-excavator to scrape the bog surface of existing vegetation and also spread and level the sand. Rakes and shovels to fill in around the ditches The removed vegetation was used to fill in a low area surrounding the bog for better management.

The plugs (those used in the research plot) were harvested by hand from the large unrenovated bog in November 2009. Clumps of vines (Early Black) were cut with felco pruners and planted into 4” pots filled with a 3:1 sand:peat mixture. These pots were overwintered in an unheated greenhouse. They were watered as needed. They were then planted in a 15×15 foot area in June 2011. The potted plants were planted at a density of one plant per square foot. They are still viable and filling in nicely.

Plugs for 1.6 acre renovation are the variety, Scarlet Knight. These vines are being field tested for climate-change resiliency. The plugs were planted by making a 14 foot jig to scrape across the bog in a grid. The jig was made using a 2” square steel piping with pipe clamps screwed in every 12 inches to make something similar to a harrow. This allowed for a large grid to emerge and at the 12” intersection a plug was planted. The public was invited to help plant the bog 40 people came over a two-day period. Two-inch holes were made with a planter and in the rooted plug was placed in the hole at every square foot. A labor crew was hired to finish the remaining 0.5 acre.

Research results and discussion:

Organic management of cranberry bogs should be taken as a whole farm system. Newly renovated bogs are good candidates for organic production. The fill in rate for the research plugs and the Scarlet Knight plugs seems to be about the same. We anticipate a 2015 harvest on both areas. The initial cost of renovation is high therefore having a clean new vine stock is essential.

Research conclusions:
Economics

To fully renovate 1.6 acres, $99,000 was invested by the farmer. The monies were allocated as follows: purchased 77,000 SK cranberry plugs ($21,000), sand ($26,000), labor ($20,000), 2 flumes ($9,000), a tailwater recovery pond ($10,000), a new high-efficiency irrigation and laser leveling ($10,000) and a new dike ($3000).

Given the high cost of a complete renovation, the decision to plant higher yielding vines makes good economic sense. Turfing does not decrease the cost of a renovation and would add significant labor costs in addition to uncertainty of the yield. Turfing could be advantageous because it provides the potential for a crop in the year after planting. The SK cranberry plugs will need three years to fully crop.

When the partners dropped from the project, the CSA was started to partially fund the renovations and provide cashflow for the operations. The farm will see a significant rise in income with the first crop of fresh organic cranberries in 2015.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We held a brunch in April of 2012 promoting our project. This was attended by 78 people and an article was written for the local newspaper (Old Colony April 2012). We also held a planting weekend in June 2012 to plant the vines and to give the public an opportunity to learn about our system. This event was in the local newspaper (Old Colony June 2012).

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Organic cranberry growers are few and far between in Massachusetts. The renovation methods described at Holmes Farm, a whole working farm, could be a model for other cranberry growers to adopt. A repeat of the full scale renovation project is proposed for 2015 on the remaining 2.2 acres. I do not recommend turfing on any scale other than a backyard. The cost of labor and equipment in moving vines, weeds ,insects and disease onto a new bog surface does not seem economically viable.

The results generated are mainly on the cost of renovation. Turfing would not be employed on this farm. The cost of moving the surface would generally not be economically feasible. In the original proposal, the goal was to be able to crop in the first year to sustain operating costs. In this model we diversified to other crops and farming models to fill the income gap. We also chose to use a higher yielding vine on the 1.6 acres.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.