Cranberry bogs, ubiquitous in Southeastern Massachusetts, can be found in every New England state.
They are enjoying something of a revival, as family farmers over the past decade have reclaimed and renovated old cranberry bogs—or built new ones –throughout New England.
Cranberry bogs are low shallow bowls of acidic peat soil near plentiful sand and water. They have four layers, starting with clay at the bottom, gravel, peat and sand.
Workers harvest cranberries during ‘Cranberry Time,’ which runs from late August through September in Southeastern New England.
History of Cranberry Bogs
If the Pilgrims served cranberries at the earliest Thanksgiving, they would have used them as a sweetener or a flavoring ingredient, not as a dish.
The first cranberry entrepreneur, Henry Hall of Dennis, Mass., noticed that his cranberry plants thrived when sand blew over them. He figured out how to transplant cranberry vines, fence them in, spread sand on them and flood the cranberry bogs at harvest time. That way, the cranberries floated to the top for easy picking.
Word spread about Henry Hall’s technique and cranberry bogs began flourishing in Southeastern Massachusetts. Some Massachusetts vines are more than 150 years old.
The cranberry industry advanced further when Marcus Libby Urann abandoned his profession as a lawyer to buy a cranberry bog. Urann made the first canned cranberry sauce .
In 1930, he joined with two other cranberry growers to found the cooperative that became Ocean Spray. Ocean Spray bottled and sold Cranberry Juice Cocktail starting in the mid-1930s. Urann is buried in Hanson, Mass., deep in cranberry country.
The Harwich Historical Society has an exhibit of cranberry culture (open in the summer) at its museum, at 80 Parallel St. in Harwich.
Here, then, are actual six cranberry bogs, one in each New England state.
In the late 19th century, Killingworth, Conn., had more than 20 acres under cranberry cultivation. Farmers eventually neglected their bogs, except for the Evarts family, which cared for the family bog for more than a century.
Sometimes they had help weeding and maintaining the bog from one of their biggest customers, Bishop’s Orchards, a Guilford, Conn., farm since 1871.
Today it’s the only cranberry harvesting bog left in Connecticut.
The Killingworth Land Conservation Trust also bought two old cranberry bogs, now known as Pond Meadow Natural Area and Cranberry Hollow.
155 Pond Meadow Rd, Killingworth, Conn.
Sugar Hill Cranberry Co.
The Sugar Hill Cranberry Co. is a small family farm in the Down East town of Columbia Falls. John and Christine Alexander harvest three kinds of cranberries on 11 acres of cranberry bogs. They grow Pilgrims, a juice berry great for wine making; the popular Stevens and the heirloom variety Howes.
Christine grew up in Massachusetts cranberry country with relatives who harvested cranberries back in the 1940s.
256 Sacarap Road, Columbia, Maine
Flax Pond Farms
You may have once noticed a picture of Jack and Dot Angley on Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice labels (click here to see it and scroll to the bottom).
They bought their 100-acre farm in Carver, Mass., in 1967. It includes a 34-acre cranberry bog that farmers have harvested since the 1890s. Today the bog produces cranberries for Ocean Spray Cranberries.
As recently as 40 years ago, up to 30 farmworkers harvested the berries with hand-held scoops and hauled them to shore by wheelbarrow. Today harvesting machines pick the berries, which a helicopter then lifts to waiting trucks.
When the bogs freeze solidly enough, sanding machines apply 1/2 to one inch of sand on the ice. It settles on the vine, stimulating new vine growth and smothering some winter insect pests.
You can visit Flax Pond Farm starting Nov. 24 for fresh-cut Christmas trees and handmade wreaths.
Click here for four other Massachusetts cranberry bogs you can tour.
58 Pond St. Carver, Mass.
Cranberry Meadow Pond
New Hampshire doesn’t seem to have any commercial cranberry bogs left. But back in the late 19th century, farmers harvested cranberries from bogs in Auburn, Manchester and Berlin, according to the Cow Hampshire blog.
Wild cranberries still grow in New Hampshire bogs, but you have to know how to look for them.
You might try the 4.5-mile Cranberry Meadow Pond Trail, which runs from downtown Peterborough to the summit of Pack Monadnock. The trail winds through some of the area’s most beautiful conservation land. For a map, click here.
Off Old Street Road near the intersection with Route 101, Peterborough, N.H.
The Greene Company
Cranberries in Rhode Island date to about 1855, when Abiel T. Sampson started planting his cranberry bog in Coventry. Eventually he expanded it to become the largest in the state. Sampson hired local families to pick the cranberries by hand for two cents a quart.
After Sampson died, the cranberry bog changed hands several times until Mr. and Mrs. Robert Leonard bought it in 1966. They ran it as the Coventry Cranberry Co. Today, The Greene Company, a 103-acre family farm in nearby Greene, harvests cranberries from the bog.
The company won a preservation award for restoring the antique cranberry processing barn on the property, built in 1890.
1065 Narrow Lane, Greene, R.I.
Vermont Cranberry Company
Bob Lesnikoski harvests cranberries from Vermont’s only commercial cranberry bog in Fletcher. He built the bog, or bed, himself and planted the cranberry vines. Lesnikoski dry harvests cranberries, but floods the bed after picking to clean it out. He told the St. Albans Messenger in 2014 that he sells about 25,000 pounds of cranberries annually to local distributors.
Doing business as the Vermont Cranberry Co., he also sells cranberries at the Burlington Farmers Market.
2563 North Rd., East Fairfield, Vt.
Need some new ideas for your Thanksgiving feast? How about trying something old — and authentic — from the New England Historical Society’s latest ebook. Available from Amazon (click here).
This story was updated in 2022.