Besides being versatile and delicious, cranberries are often known as a super fruit for their high nutrient and antioxidant properties. As the tart star of desserts, snacks, and main dishes alike, using them in oatmeal, breads, muffins or pancakes or on top of yogurt or cold cereal can turn just another breakfast into a yummy treat–one worth repeating and serving to guests. In sorbets, soups, juice, sauces and purees, and even in meat glazes, the cranberry’s many benefits extend to fostering cancer prevention and lowering high cholesterol, as well as reducing the risk of inflammation which has been deemed the root of many illnesses. High in vitamins A and C, cranberries can be used traditionally (here comes Aunt Edna’s cranberry and cream cheese mold!) or as an added boost in granola and trail mix.
But what about growing this powerhouse fruit yourself? If you think acres of fertile farmland and a pair of waders are needed for the typical cranberry harvest–known as wet-picking where beds are flooded with 6 to 8 inches of water above the vines and a large harvester is used to separate the fruit–you may want to think again. Individual cranberry plants can be obtained for home gardeners who wish to cultivate their own small crop.
According to John Harker, director of market development for the Maine Department of Agriculture and owner, with wife Debra Parry, of Cranberry Creations in Mt. Vernon, Maine — www.cranberrycreations.com — growing your own cranberries has many advantages. Supplying starter plants to the public, Harker and Parry espouse gardening for everyone and enjoy what they grow themselves. A favorite use of the fruit for them is to steam cranberries in a colander over boiling water for juice, without all the added sugar in store bought products (be sure to strain through cheesecloth). They also recommend a Meju-Maija steam juicer for the potent juice they like from their own berries.
How to Grow Them
Cranberries are a ground-cover plant, known to spread out in two to three years after planting. Flowers and fruit are produced after that time. They are known to favor acidic soil and benefit from being close to water, but not to water-logged land. Cranberries also like sand, which is why they call places like Cape Cod, Massachusetts, home, though the largest U.S. producer is the state of Wisconsin. It is recommended gardeners add a layer of sand every couple of years, which is also said to prevent weeds from growing. For a couple of plants, allow a 2-by-2-foot growing area for each. It’s best to plant in fall or spring, and a frost should be followed up by immediately sprinkling plants with soil and water to prevent damage. As perennials, they are known to do well on their own except for monitoring for viruses or insects.
Tasty around the holidays in breads, cakes, and stuffing, cranberries are an ideal treat any time of the year, made more so by knowing they came from your very own garden!