Growing cranberries is a unique occupation. In fact, there are fewer than 1,000 cranberry growing operations in North America. For growers Jill and James Ward, who run the five-acre Fawn Pond Bog, maintaining healthy vines year-round is vital for keeping the business and their family afloat.
Cranberries thrive under a very special combination of factors. They grow on low-lying vines in beds layered with sand, peat, gravel and clay. In the winter, growers flood the bogs to create a layer of ice that protects vines from harsh weather. The ice also allows them to sand the beds, which stimulates growth when the ice melts. In the spring, they drain the bogs and blossoms appear for bees to pollinate. In the summer, petals fall from the flowers, leaving small green nodes that will turn into cranberries.
In the fall, growers harvest the berries using wet or dry methods. Dry harvesting uses walk-behind machines to comb the berries off the vines into burlap bags. Then they remove the berries from the bogs with bog vehicles or helicopters. Most crops are wet harvested, a process where growers flood the bogs and stir up the water to dislodge fruit from the vines. Because cranberries have pockets of air inside the fruit, they float to the surface of the water, where growers gather them up by booms and lift them out of the bog.
The Wards have owned Fawn Pond Bog, which sits on 13 acres of land in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for about ten years. They harvest their cranberries in October and sell them to Ocean Spray®. From the beginning, they have relied on Sensaphone remote monitoring systems, first the SCADA 3000 and now the Sentinel, to monitor the air temperature surrounding the vines.
The Wards selected the Sentinel system because their location requires cellular connectivity. The base unit is located in the middle of the woods, where there is no internet connection. They place sensors directly within the cranberry vines, and when the temperature reaches 32° F, the Wards get an alert on their cell phones.
"When the Sentinel system notifies us that the air temperature at the vines is close to freezing, we immediately activate the pump that feeds the sprinkler heads, which spray the plants with water to protect them," Jill explained.
Interestingly, the layer of ice that forms over the vines actually protects the plant from cold temperatures. In the spring, when the temperature dips to a dangerous level, the sprinkler system applies water to guard the cranberry buds and tender shoots. In the fall, the water shields the ripening cranberries from freezing. Without this protection system in place, a cranberry farm can lose its entire income from severe frost damage in less than 20 minutes.
Monitoring the Pump and Power
The Wards also use the Sentinel to monitor pump pressure. If the sensor indicates that the pressure has fallen below the preset level, there might be a leak that they need to address quickly.
In addition to temperature alerts, they rely on receiving notice of power outages. If there is a power outage and the main pump goes down, James can switch to the backup water pump, which runs on a generator that he must manually start.
They are also considering adding sensors to monitor the water level in the bog to make sure it is ideal for the vines during each season. All of these sensors can be connected to their existing Sentinel system.
Ease of the App
The Ward family members are busy as the primary tenders of the bog. They also have to manage contractors like the helicopter pilot who applies the fertilizer, the beekeeper who providers the pollinators and workers who harvest and load the crops.
That's why it was important that the Sentinel system was easy to install and maintain. And it gives the Wards the ability to control their monitoring system from their smartphones.
“We both find the system very user-friendly. We can receive alerts, monitor sensor readings, change settings and disable the alarms right from the app,” Jill noted. "And I can't say enough good things about Rob Fusco and Sensaphone's technical service support."
Jill added, “We've always relied on a Sensaphone system to keep an eye on the temperature. I have confidence in the device to let us know when we need to take action to protect the vines or check on the pump. Without it, we'd run the risk of losing a lot of income."