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Here are five fun facts about cranberries, as well as tips for growing this American native and favorite seasonal ingredient yourself.
5 Facts About Cranberries
By the beginning of November, nearly all of the cranberry crop should have been harvested. Millions and millions of the hard, little, tart, ruby berries grown in the bogs of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and the Maritime provinces of Canada will have been bagged fresh or earmarked for juice or canned sauce.
The cranberry is a genuine American native plant, Vaccinium macrocarpon, a member of the heath family and a relative of the blueberry and huckleberry.
The Pequot Native Americans of Cape Cod called the berry ibimi, meaning “bitter berry,” and combined crushed cranberries with dried venison and fat to make a winter superfood called pemmican.
The Pilgrims and those who followed appreciated the wild berries but did not start to cultivate them until 1816, when a bog was planted and tended in the town of Dennis on Cape Cod. By then, American and Canadian sailors on long voyages knew they could eat cranberries to protect themselves from scurvy—making them a cranberry counterpart to British “limeys.”
The cranberry is a native superfood and is good for you! They’re packed with anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant compounds.
OK, this isn’t a fun fact, but cranberries taste great! They add a unique burst of tart flavor to any dish—as well as glorious color. Here’s a delicious Cranberry Dream Pie that you can make ahead and stick in the freezer.
Try Growing Cranberries Yourself—No Bog Necessary!
Cranberries are grown in bogs because these are constructed to protect the fruit: A bog can be quickly flooded when freezing weather is predicted, thus sparing the submerged blossoms and berries from spring and fall frosts.
But did you know that you don’t need a bog to grow cranberries? In fact, they are a great addition to the home garden—and, come harvesttime, they are a surprise condiment for your Thanksgiving dinner. A 10x5-foot plot will yield up to 10 pounds of delicious berries just in time for holiday sauce and desserts.
Here’s all you need to know to grow cranberries at home:
For best results, cranberries should be grown in full sun in a 50–50 mix of garden soil and peat moss (for acidity and drainage). If your soil is sandy, remove the top 8 inches and line the bottom of the bed with a sheet of 6-mil plastic.
Poke plenty of drainage holes in the plastic and then fill the bed with the soil mix. Scratch in 1/2 pound of 10-20-10 fertilizer and you are ready to plant.
The cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, a North American native, is a member of the heath family and a relative of the blueberry and huckleberry. It is a low-growing evergreen, hardy to Zone 2, that sends out runners much like strawberries do. Each runner may grow up to 3 feet long and send up numerous uprights that bear thumbnail-size fruit.
Cranberries are best planted in late April through the end of May. Six 3-year-old plants spaced evenly throughout the bed will grow together to form a thick mat and should produce during the first season.
A light mulch of sawdust or sand will help to root the runners. Water the new planting every day for 2 weeks and then as you would the rest of your garden. Flower buds open from late May to June and produce ripe fruit in late September to early October.
Fun to grow and easy to care for, cranberries are one crop that shouldn’t bog down any gardener.