Grow cranberries in your home garden

This time of year, having homegrown cranberries is a real treat. If you live in Zones 2 to 6, it's easy. No bog needed.

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    The first berries start appearing on vines in July. They reach their maximum size by mid-September and can be picked up until Thanksgiving, even if buried in snow.

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    I can't bake enough of these cranberry-tangerine muffins to satisfy my family. Homegrown, fresh berries impart a wonderful taste.
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My family is enjoying, almost to the point of gluttony, cranberry muffins, cranberry relish, and apple-cranberry tarts throughout this holiday season.

I have only one plant and this is its second year in the ground, so all the cranberries are used fresh. But I’m anticipating the vine will spread, increase berry production, and I’ll have enough to dry. That’s the plan.

About 100 miles north of my home, a large portion of the country’s cranberries are grown, about 285 million pounds. Along either side of Interstate 94 north of the Wisconsin Dells, flooded fields of red berries bob awaiting mechanical scoops that harvest them in late September. They are a gorgeous sight.

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Surprisingly to many, the red berries don’t need a bog or swamp to grow, although they do grow naturally in boggy areas.

Cranberry growing requirements

What they require are acid soil, wet feet, and full sun in any climate from USDA Zones 2 to 6. Warmer areas are too hot for the vines.

I ordered a four-year-old plant that was guaranteed to bear fruit its first year in the ground. It came with explicit planting instructions, and I followed them exactly with great success. Almost a pound of cranberries were harvested the first year.

My soil isn’t acidic; it’s the end of a former glacier full of limestone with a pH of 7.4. I dug a 12-inch-deep pit, two feet wide and four feet long. The soil was replaced with half sharp sand and half peat moss. To this mix, I added one cup each of bone meal, blood meal, Epsom salts, and rock phosphate.

After the bed was thoroughly watered, I set the plant about a half inch below soil level. Shredded bark mulch and pine needles were layered to create a two-inch-thick mulch. The vine was nearly buried!

Maintenance, other than keeping the soil damp, is almost nonexistent. I did add a brick border to keep encroaching weeds from invading. By next summer, the vine runners should fill the bed, and I won’t have to worry about weeds.

Homegrown cranberries become holiday treats

I started picking cranberries in late October and froze them whole. Last week, I began baking holiday treats, freezing some for Christmas gifts and dinner. My family’s favorite cranberry goodie is a gluten-free muffin [click on second photo above to see these in all their glory]. Here’s the recipe.

Cranberry-Tangerine Muffins

1 cup ground almonds
1 cup vanilla protein powder
1 tablespoon. baking soda
1 cup sugar or Splenda
2 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 sticks butter or margarine, melted
3/4 cup tangerine or orange juice
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
4 ounces chopped black walnuts

Combine ground almonds, protein powder, baking soda, and sugar or Splenda in a large bowl. Add eggs and melted butter and beat mixture. Add juice and mix. Fold cranberries and nuts into batter.

Grease muffin tins or line them with paper cups. Fill cups and bake for 18 to 22 minutes at 400 degrees F. Makes 18 muffins.

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Doreen Howard, the Edible Explorer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. If it’s edible and unusual, she figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide. Her new book, "Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring the Rich Flavor of the Past," will published in 2011. To read more by Doreen, click here

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