Cranberries aren't just for the sauce at Thanksgiving and Christmas; once you've brought in your cranberry bounty you'll realize just how many you have and wonder what to do with them all! But first we need to make sure we are picking them at the ripe time, and before they birds start taking an interest.
From this point on we are going to assume that you have planted and taken care of your cranberries, and now just need to know the best way to harvest them.
When to Start Your Harvest
Now you've planted your cranberries and grown a beautiful, ruby-red crop, you want to know the best way to pick them. So how do you do this? Harvesting cranberries usually begins in September, and can continue through October, depending on:
1) Where you are in the world.
2) The weather conditions the cranberries have been grown in.
3) How quickly the first frosts will appear.
4) The variety of cranberry you are growing.
Your method of growing cranberries can also affect the time when your cranberries are ripe for the picking. Success has been achieved in not only growing cranberries on vines or shrubs, but also on hanging baskets, and other garden containers.
Unlike many fruits, cranberries can be harvested at the end of the first year of planting - you don't have to wait a few years before you can start harvesting. There is a popular held belief that you can tell when a cranberry is ripe, if it bounces. A better way to tell if your cranberries are ready to be harvested is by opening up a berry and looking at the seeds inside. If the cranberry seeds are a brown color, then they are ready to be picked. If your cranberries get a lot of sun, then you may have more burgundy looking seeds, which again is a sign that your cranberries are ready for harvesting to commence.
How to Harvest
Unless you have a mini bog in your garden, ready to be flooded before cranberry harvesting takes place (as they do on modern cranberry farms), hand-picking is obviously the way to go. This is the way early settlers and natives used to do it and isn't as tricky or time-intensive as you may think.
You should hand-pick all cranberries that are formed before the year's first hard frost. Cranberries are not very frost-resistant, although you might get away with harvesting them after a light frost if the temperature wasn't too low - anything below 30F the cranberries won't survive. Frosts do not improve cranberries, as some people think.
If the frosts are approaching and your cranberries still need some color, then protect and cover your cranberry plants with a blanket or plastic sheeting overnight. Check the variety of cranberry you are growing, as different varieties produce different shades of colors from red, deep red to burgundy.
Cranberries should be hand-picked when red, but still firm - you may have to be quick as cranberries tend to ripen quickly once they have turned red. If you leave it past this point, then the birds will have started harvesting your crop before you have had a chance.
Now you know how you do harvest cranberries you are now free to enjoy your crop, and the numerous health benefits cranberries offer.