It’s harvest time at Yellow Point Cranberries

Visitors learn about dry-harvesting cranberries during tours of family farm just north of Ladysmith.

Visitors watch the cranberry separating machine in the packing shed at Yellow Point Cranberries during a tour of the farm on Sept. 30.

Visitors watch the cranberry separating machine in the packing shed at Yellow Point Cranberries during a tour of the farm on Sept. 30.

When they think of cranberry harvests, many people automatically think of bright red cranberries floating in water.

But the reality is that the fresh cranberries you purchase from farms, markets and stores were dry-harvested using machines that comb the berries off dry fields, explains Yellow Point Cranberries owner Grant Keefer.

Keefer and his wife Justine offered tours of their cranberry farm on Yellow Point Road Sun., Sept. 30 to explain the harvesting process.

“Cranberries are very seldom in water; they don’t grow in water,” he said. “It’s a harvesting tool is what the water is all about. The reality is the majority of processed cranberries are harvested in water, but for fresh fruit, the majority are harvested on land.”

The Keefers have been in Yellow Point since 2001.

“Justine and I decided to start cranberry farming, and we looked about five years for the property,” said Keefer.

The property they found hadn’t been used for much for many years, so they slowly started working the fields, and they started producing cranberries in 2005.

Keefer’s family is from Richmond, and they had grown cranberries there.

“It’s in your blood,” he said. “It’s what I grew up with.”

Yellow Point Cranberries produces about 200,000 pounds of cranberries a year. The Keefers belong to the Ocean Spray co-operative, and most of their cranberries go to Ocean Spray.

Besides providing cranberries for Ocean Spray, the Keefers sell their cranberries to local farmers’ markets and local stores.

Cranberries grow upright on low shrubs in the field. Right now, the Keefers are dry-harvesting for fresh fruit, getting berries off the field using machines that comb the fruit off the vines and into sacks.

“It’s very slow, but that’s the way it’s done because it’s very delicate on the plants,” said Keefer.

The Keefers will soon begin water-harvesting, which is much more efficient.

The fields are flooded, and they use a machine to knock the fruit off the vines.  They can flood a field in six to eight hours and beat the berries in one field in one and a half hours, explained Keefer.

Cranberries that are water-harvested are used for cranberry juice and to make sweetened, dried cranberries.

At Yellow Point Cranberries, they start harvesting at the end of September, and they will be picking up until the end of October, explained Keefer, noting they will have fresh cranberries at the farm into November.

Regularly, two to three people work part-time on the family farm, and one person works full-time, but during harvest, they may have up to five, six or even eight people in the fields.

“We have really good neighbours and really good people helping,” said Keefer.

The Keefers produce more than 30 selections of cranberry confections, such as cranberry sauce, chutney and salsa, in their Cranberry Cottage Kitchen and have them available in their two-room store. Everything they sell is made on the farm.

“The idea is to get people out to the farm to show them what the harvest is,” said Keefer.