Tangy, tart cranberries are somewhat of a fickle fruit, requiring just the right conditions for growth, such as; an adequate, fresh water supply, a long growing season that extends into the fall and acidic soil complete with peat and clay. One such bog in Killingworth, quietly sited off Pond Meadow Road, a secret to most, happens to have just the perfect conditions for this crimson crop to prosper.
Believed to have originated from glacial deposits, bogs are layered with sand, peat and clay that grow cranberries on low-lying vines, in beds. The Killingworth bog was originally purchased in 1896 by the Evart family. It was the only commercially producing cranberry bog in Connecticut; at its peak, twenty-five acres of the bog was in production.
Excited about bringing back such a distinctive part of Killingworth’s rich history by renovating the bog, agricultural expert and fifth generation Bishop Farm family member, Keith Bishop now has 4.5 of those acres and seeded 2.5 for crops. Always a proponent of keeping Connecticut’s agriculture history alive, Bishop acquired the bogs from the Evart family. The two families had done business with one another years back when Bishop’s Orchards Farm Market, in Guilford, started selling Evart’s cranberries in the 70s.
“The first time they asked me if I wanted to buy the bog I said no, but then I thought about it and decided it would be a new venture,” explained Bishop.
Once he acquired the bog, he called on contacts from Cornell University (the college he graduated from in 1977 with a BS in Agricultural Economics) and connected with cranberry growers and suppliers in New Jersey and Massachusetts. He extensively researched the innards of the business of cranberry production and attended an intensive University of Massachusetts/Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association continuing education class. From there, he consulted with experts to evaluate the soil of the property, the growing conditions, water management and renovation requirements.
Bishop explained that each acre was an investment of approximately $30,000 after factoring in costs for renovating the land, purchasing the seeds, planting and maintaining. This year’s harvested crop is the first since he planted the bog back in the summer of 2016. It only yielded about 25 percent of its full harvest, which Bishop hopes will be ready by next year. He explained that cranberries are a perennial crop, so they only need to be planted once and then maintained accordingly.
Bishop hopes to have this year’s yield ready for sale in the next few weeks so localvores can include the fresh, locally grown fruit as a part of their Thanksgiving family feasts.
“This was an intriguing opportunity for me and a learning opportunity,” said Bishop who admits that his plan has been fraught with a number of different things that were not expected. “This is how things go when you are doing something for the first time. Learning about watering needs and fertilizing programs, as well as dealing with unexpected natural weather occurrences is always something new to learn from.”
He added, “I love challenges and new opportunities. Diversity has helped our family to weather the farming cycles in the past.”
Bishop’s crop of new hybrid cranberries called Scarlet Knight, which were developed by a Rutgers University breeding program, were chosen by Bishop because they produce a large, dark red, long-keeping berry, which is well suited for retail fresh fruit sales through the winter months.
The berries that don’t make the cut for sale at Bishop’s Orchard Farm Market and Winery, in regard to looks, will be used to make cranberry wine and cranberry/apple hard cider which unfortunately won’t be available for Thanksgiving tables, but is a treat to look forward to for Christmas dinner.