The World's Most Beautiful Harvest
The tart, tangy cranberry – Wisconsin’s state fruit – is an antioxidant rich “superfruit” that can be found in juices, sweetened dried cranberries and other products around the world. A tour of a cranberry marsh in Manitowish Waters is a real treat – especially during the picturesque harvest time when the berries are crimson red and workers are corralling a seemingly endless carpet of the floating red fruit.
Cranberry marshes were built in northern Wisconsin shortly after World War II with some currently entering their family’s fourth generation and the only source of agri-tourism in the area. Farms in the Manitowish Waters area range in size from 63 acres to 186 acres, with a total overall acreage of over 650 acres. Cranberry marshes are located on the south side of Manitowish Waters, along the shores of Little Trout Lake and Alder Lake. A pillar of cranberry marsh management is the protection of water, wetland and wildlife resources.
In late September, cool nights and short days cause the berries to ripen to a crimson red, signaling the start of harvest. Cranberry beds are flooded with up to 18 inches of water, and berries are gently knocked off the vine with machinery. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not grow in water; they grow on low-running vines, and each nutrient-dense berry has tiny pockets of air that allow it to float. Workers then corral the berries to be removed and cleaned. Most cranberries in Manitowish Waters are transported to storage before being used for processed fruit, like Craisins and juice products.
Cranberry Marsh Tours
A tour of a working cranberry marsh isn’t just a staple of fall. Spring and summer months bring growing, blooming and farm maintenance in preparation for the harvest season. Cranberries ripen in late September, so make sure to return for cranberry harvest, which is considered to be the “world’s most beautiful harvest.” Be sure to pick up some fresh cranberries and cranberry-related gift items from local retailers to take home.
Marsh tours, sponsored by the Manitowish Waters Cranberry Growers, run every Friday at 10am from mid-August to early October. The one-hour tour, rain or shine, starts at 10am at the Cranberry Square Market. The tour includes an educational video, tasting cranberry samples, Q&A session and prizes. Then it’s off to caravan in your own vehicle to Vilas Cranberry Company for an up-close look at the bogs. All ages are welcome; pre-registration is not required.