Cranberry Harvesting

Cranberry harvesting (stealing) in 1864 New Jersey

excerpts from: Morris, Edmund. How to get a Farm, and where to find one... NY: 1864
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It is known that several counties in New Jersey contain thousands of acres of cranberry lands, which annually produce abundant crops of fruit. … The whole region is but thinly settled, and there are but few clearings among the dense pine forests which cover a large portion of the ground. Most of these have been made by pine-hawkers and charcoal-burners, who support life under great privations… They swarm among the swamps during the picking season, so that the owner gets little or none of the crop. …

All these wild lands are consequently unsalable, and are worth from two to five dollars per acre. They have been in the market at these prices for many years… Large districts of them are within a few miles of a railroad...but they lie on no public thoroughfare, and hence they have remained unnoticed and neglected.

Seven years ago an enterprising farmer of Burlington county purchased a hundred acres of this swamp land, for which he paid $5 per acre...a third or a half to be paid down. Much of his purchase was grown up with cranberries… He conciliated, to some extent, the jealousies of the neighboring sand-hillers by employing them to cut brush sufficient to construct a fence around the portion to be protected, so as to keep off the hogs and cattle which roamed the woods, rooting up or trampling down the plants.

He had purchased the land in April, and that fall he sold $600 worth of fruit, netting $440. The following year was less productive, in consequence of a heavy frost when the plants were in bloom. In the mean time he had enlarged his plantation by extending his brush fence around other portions of the tract, and at this writing is clearing an average of $1100 annually from about thirty acres. …

Once established, these cranberry swamps rarely fail. Now and then a frost may injure the crop, or the worm may wholly destroy it; but on the average of five years, there is probably no investment that can be made to pay better. ...

For a beginner it possesses rare advantages. Generally it will take care of itself, requiring little labor or attention, except when the crop comes in. For at least ten months of the year he may employ most of his time in working out for others, or in cultivating other land for the production of food for his family.

The crop is among the most marketable of all the fruits.  Its sale is distributed over the whole year, instead of being, like other berries, crowded into a few weeks.  It is largely exported, and there has rarely been a glut. ...

At one time, said Dr. Miller's farmer, 200 persons might have been seen in that swamp picking cranberries.  It was a lively scene.  After they were gathered, they were taken to the house, where they were sorted, the soft berries, after winnowing them, were culled out by women and girls, preparatory to barrelling.

Dr. Miller has about twenty-five acres, divided into five meadows... all on the same stream of water.  The whole can be overflowed at will in about two hours.  [average price $10 a barrell, and 1100 barrels...]

picture from: A Flora of North America. by William Barton. Philadelphia: 1821