It’s once again blueberry season at Crystal Spring Farm. A portion of the farm on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road consists of a rare natural community of plants known as a sandplain grassland, which is ideal habitat for low-bush blueberries. It’s July, so the blueberries in the barren are ripening now!
Please note that the Land Trust only owns a small section of the barren. The much larger adjacent property is leased and managed by Seth Kroeck, Crystal Spring’s farm manager, for the commercial sale of organic blueberries. Please do not pick beyond the Land Trust’s clearly marked property boundary.
Kroeck described his growing process for us. “Growing blueberries is a two-year cycle. We prune the plants, either by mowing or burning, the spring after the harvest. The next year they regrow and it is on this new growth that they make flowers and then fruit. By dividing the field in two, each season we have one section of plants in regeneration and one ready to harvest.”
BTLT undertakes a similar management practice, and this spring half of the section open to the public was burned to promote healthy growth of this unique habitat. Because of this, there will only be berries in the western section this year.
- . The boundary line is marked with metal stakes and signs, and the lone trees in the middle of the field mark part of the boundary.
Kroeck also noted that “Bees for pollination are rented from Swan’s Honey in Albion. We truck them back and forth, loading in the evenings when the colonies are inside the hives. It takes 30 to 40 hives to pollinate this crop.” There are also a few ‘resident hives’ on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road that help to pollinate the blueberries when they are in flower.
Mowing, bringing in hives to pollinate, harvesting, and processing are all labor and capital intensive for Kroeck and Crystal Spring Community Farm. But, blueberries have become one of the farms’ most important crops, and can be found in natural food and grocery stores up and down the coast. This significant investment is also why we ask the community to be mindful of only picking in the areas BTLT has set aside for public gathering.
The massive “barren” at Crystal Spring doesn’t just produce blueberries, though. The area is a rare natural community home to sedges, birds, reptiles, and butterflies that depend on sandy soils and full sunlight to thrive. Once common along the northeastern coast, development and changing land uses have all but eliminated this unique biome, and the Maine Natural Areas Program lists it as “critically imperiled.” The unique habitat is a product of geologic history and human actions. The sand and gravel deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age provides a level, well-drained base that acidic plants love. Both Native Americans and European settlers used fire deliberately as a way to maintain the area as grassland and promote blueberry production.
In 2019, BTLT hosted a “bioblitz” at the property to help catalog the many species that call this place home. The recent prescribed burn of the blueberry barrens will help ensure this unique habitat is sustained, and BTLT will carefully monitor the recovery and the species that it has impacted.
If you’re interested in learning more about the prescribed burn and this rare natural community, join the Land Trust’s Stewardship Manager, Margaret Gerber, on July 27th at 5:30 PM. She’ll take you through the process of planning on the ground for a prescribed burn and what the Land Trust hoped to accomplish by burning 14 acres of the barren in April, as well as any other questions you have around land management. To learn more about the event and register, you can click here.
If you can’t make the walk but would like to visit the blueberry barrens,
- now is a great time of year to do so while the blueberries are ripe for the picking. We also recently installed interpretive signage at the farm that helps describe this unique community.
Our blueberry barren is located south of Pleasant Hill Road. To access it, you can park at the Crystal Spring Farm trail parking area and take the East Trail. Where the East Trail intersects the Blueberry Loop, take a right toward the field and you’ll find blueberries!
As you enjoy the blueberries and engage in this wonderful rite of summer, please respect a few important rules:
- Stay on our property: The map at the end of this post shows the location of our property boundary. These maps are posted at primary entrances to our property.
- Park responsibly: While we prefer that people use the parking area described above and walk to the barren, it is also possible to park along Pleasant Hill Road near the gate approximately 0.75 mile from Maine Street. If you park on Pleasant Hill Road:
- DO NOT BLOCK THE FARM ROAD OR GATE! The road must be accessible to farm and fire equipment at all times.
- Park only on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road (the side the blueberries are on). With cars parked on both sides of the road, pedestrians crossing, runners and bikers, and farm equipment all converging – it makes for a very unsafe situation.
- Have fun! And share your best blueberry recipes with us!
If you have questions, give us a call at 729-7694. Happy picking!