Thank goodness I caught the sign out of the corner of my eye while driving past it that day; otherwise, I would have whizzed on by and never known that the object of much personal curiosity over the past few years had been within arms reach.
Curiosity has been a close friend of mine for years. It’s led me to numerous countries around the world and to a vast array of life experiences. It was curiosity that made me swerve off the main road that day (just 3 months ago) and follow the signs to a cranberry bog. Yes, a bog has been the source of much curiosity for me for quite some time now.
A CURIOSITY WAS BORN
Have you ever seen a TV advertisement for Ocean Spray cranberry juice? I saw my first one a few years ago. It featured 2 men wearing hip-waders in water up to their thighs and completely surrounded by bright red cranberries. That ad sparked my curiosity.
I come from Canada’s east coast and we have lots of berries out there – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries – and I’ve spent LOTS of time picking little baskets of each of them as a child. But I’ve NEVER seen berries floating in a bog before. The whole scene was just fascinating to me.
Do cranberries actually grow in water? How does that work?
Ever since I saw that ad I’ve been extremely curious as to how cranberries grow and are harvested. This alone is a bit surprising to me because I’m not a foodie or a farmer or even a decent cook. I have never expressed any real interest in where or how foods ‘come to be’. I’ve been quite happy to simply eat food and move on. But something about seeing those men standing in the bog with all those bright red berries bobbing around them was so visually striking – and so different from what I knew about berries – that it has stuck with me all these years.
THE CRANBERRY BOG EXPERIENCE
Since turning down that road 3 months ago in Bala, Ontario (Canada), I have now satisfied my cranberry curiosity. My experience lived up to the images I had in my mind and not only did I learn a lot about cranberries, I also discovered a taste for the candy-covered variety.
On my first visit to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, I learned that cranberries don’t grow in water after all – they grow in low dense bushes or vines. But, for ease of picking, they’re usually harvested in water. Every September/October, most cranberry fields are harvested using a wet method which involves flooding the fields in about a foot of water. A harvester is then sent through the beds to separate the berries from the dense vines sending the ripe berries up to the surface of the water where they float and can be easily corralled into a small area and then pumped or conveyed out of the bog.
Who knew? Not me. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that seeing as how cranberries are only native to North America (where I live) and there are apparently numerous commercial cranberry bogs across Canada (again, where I live). In fact the first commercial cranberry bog was planted in the very province that I was born and raised – Nova Scotia.
You never know what’s in your own backyard sometimes which is why all of us should get out and explore more. And that’s just what I did.
I timed my second visit to Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh to fall during the harvest season. I made the 2-hour drive up to Muskoka from Toronto last weekend for the opportunity to see a bog filled with red floating cranberries.
I know it’s just a berry but it was pretty cool to get out there and walk around the cranberry fields. Some of the fields were still dry, awaiting their turn to be harvested, which allowed me to see the deep red colour of the berries and their evergreen leaves up close – they made me think of mistletoe. I also witnessed all of the amazing wildlife that plays a big part in a viable cranberry bog.
On a guided wagon-ride tour, I learned that a little group of Peking ducks were calling the cranberry fields home in exchange for helping to keep the marsh healthy. Numerous bee hives I was told, are also housed on site to help facilitate pollination when the cranberries are in blossom. Apparently each grain of pollen that a bee brings to a cranberry blossom equates to one seed in the cranberry. With at least 20 seeds needed to be viable, LOTS of busy bee activity is needed. I bet you just learned something new!
Not only did I get to indulge my curiosity about how cranberries grow during my visit; I also got to indulge myself in other ways.
I tasted chocolate and yoghurt covered cranberries, candy-covered cranberries and even a few varieties of cranberry wine. Of course, if I was a foodie, I would have brought a bag of fresh cranberries home with me and made my own Thanksgiving dinner cranberry sauce. That didn’t happen.
It may sound odd to some – it’s just a berry after all! – but for me, seeing all those cranberries floating in the water and the farmers slogging around in their hip-waders was a really cool experience. My only regret is that I didn’t get to stand IN the bog myself, hip-waders and all. I guess I’ll have to plan visit #3.
Have you ever been curious about how cranberries were grown and harvested? If you’ve visited a bog before, leave me a comment and tell me about your experience – did you get to stand in the bog?
Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh offers numerous experiences to its visitors including their Canadian Signature “Bog to Bottle” experience where visitors enjoy a guided tour of the cranberry fields before being led through a tasting of the various cranberry wines.