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The History of Cranberry Production

Of all fruits, only three - the blueberry, the Concord grape and the cranberry can trace their roots to North American soil.

The cranberry helped sustain Americans for hundreds of years. Native Americans used cranberries in a variety of foods, the most popular was pemmican - a high protein combination of crushed cranberries, dried deer meat and melted fat - they also used it as a medicine to treat arrow wounds and as a dye for rugs and blankets.

Cultivation of the cranberry began around 1816, shortly after Captain Henry Hall, of Dennis, Massachusetts, noticed that the wild cranberries in his bogs grew better when sand blew over them. Captain Hall began transplanting his cranberry vines, fencing them in, and spreading sand on them himself. When others heard of Hall's technique, it was quickly copied. Continuing throughout the 19th century, the number of growers increased steadily.

Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November, including a dormancy period in the winter months that provides an extended chilling period, necessary to mature fruiting buds.

Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water. Instead, they grow on vines in impermeable beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. These beds, commonly known as "bogs," were originally made by glacial deposits.

Normally, growers do not have to replant since an undamaged cranberry vine will survive indefinitely. Some vines in Massachusetts are more than 150 years old.

In addition to Massachusetts, the major growing areas for cranberries are New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec. Additional regions with cranberry production include Delaware, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, as well as the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. Altogether the entire cranberry industry is supported by approximately 47,000 acres, of which 14,000 are in Massachusetts.

The growth cycle of the cranberry

Varieties of Cranberries

There are more than 100 varieties of cranberries that grow in North America.  Some of the cranberry bogs at Mayflower Cranberries have the same vines that were planted over 120 years ago.


Varieties grown on our farm


Early Black: Discovered by N. Robbins in 1852 in Harwich, Massachusetts, they are the first berries to market in September. Growers like them because they can be harvested before the fall frost season. The berries are smaller and yield less than new hybrids but have a sweeter taste and intense red color. Early Black is used for fresh fruit and processing.  The variety makes great wholeberry cranberry sauce.  About 90-130 berries fit in a cup. This variety represents 43% of acreage in Massachusetts. We have 2.5 acres of early black on our farm.

Howes: Discovered by E. Howes in 1843 in East Dennis, Massachusetts, Howes are harvested about three weeks after the Early Blacks. Howes produce bigger, firmer, tart berries and they store well. Howes can be sliced and still hold their berry shape. Howes area great fresh fruit berry. About 80-115 Howe berries fit in a cup. This variety represents 36% of acreage in Massachusetts. We have 4.75 acres of Howes on our farm.

Stevens: Discovered by H. F. Bain in 1940 in Whitesbog, New Jersey.  Stevens are mid season variety and a larger fruit then many other varieties, 50-65 berries fit in a cup. Stevens have deep red color and are a less tart then Howes and Early Black. Stevens are often used in the manufacturing of juice or sweetened dried cranberries. They account for 12% of acreage in Massachusetts. We have 15.3 acres of Stevens planted on our farm.

Whiting-Randall: Discovered by G. Randall in 1888 in Plympton, Massachusetts. It ripens very late and have a medium red color. Randall's have a spindle shape and look like a mini football. About 111-140 berries fit in one cup. We have 1.1 acres of this variety.