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Annual cranberry harvest continues a 'very Canadian' tradition

Last Updated Oct 9, 2017 at 2:56 pm EST

Murray Johnston stands in a pool of floating cranberries, Oct. 9, 2017. CITYNEWS/Audra Brown

The small cottage country town of Bala is known as Ontario’s cranberry capital, and farms are in the middle of harvesting the berries.

At Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh, the Johnston family has been growing cranberries for three generations.

It’s a year-round job to care for the vines, and growing the fruit is no small feat.

“They can’t grow in southern Ontario,” owner Murray Johnston explained.

“There’s too much limestone and the pH is too high. So they have to be in northern climates, but too far north is too cold. So Muskoka is the sweet spot.”

Because the berries grow under the small plants, it’s difficult to get them off the vines. So the farmers use a little ingenuity to get them harvested. The berries contain air pockets so when the marshes are flooded, the berries float.

They can then be either carefully raked off, to use as fresh fruit, or a large beater can be used to knock the berries off.

The floating cranberries can then be collected with boons and used for juice, wine or to make dried cranberries.

“It’s very specific to this region, and it’s very Canadian in that respect,” Johnston said.

“People from around the world think of cranberries as Canadian fruit.”

The Bala Cranberry Festival is happening the weekend of October 13 to 15, 2017.