The Little Berries That Can

The much anticipated annual traditions of the blueberry season will look a bit different in Maine and at Crystal Spring Farm this year compared to most. A late spring freeze in mid-May saw significant crop damage and loss throughout the state. This has resulted in an estimated 70% loss of blueberries at Crystal Spring Farm and the surrounding blueberry fields, according to Seth Kroeck, the farm manager at Crystal Spring Farm and operator of Maquoit Wild Blueberries on the property adjacent to the Land Trust’s blueberry barren for the commercial sale of organic blueberries.

The good news is that unlike other crops lost to the May frost, low bush blueberries like the ones at Crystal Spring Farm are hardy, long lived perennial shrubs that were not killed off by the frost. However, their fragile and sensitive flowers that turn into the sweet, iconic berry that Mainers know and love were the casualties, resulting in far fewer blueberries at Crystal Spring Farm this year than usual. Coupled with one of the wettest June’s on record and what so far is looking to be one of the state’s wettest July’s as well, many crops, including blueberries, are behind when they would usually be harvestable, and the same is true at Crystal Spring Farm.

While in years past fully ripe berries have been harvested on July 4th weekend at Crystal Spring, currently the majority of the berries that survived the May frost still have a week or two to go before they are ripe and ready for picking, so be sure to plan accordingly before you go and anticipate taking less than in previous years to leave some blueberries for other visitors as well as wildlife, in addition to observing all boundary markers.

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 and owner of Maquoit Wild Blueberries, for the commercial sale of organic blueberries. Please do not pick beyond the Land Trust’s clearly marked property boundary. See photo below.

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.

While u-pick is a draw for many visitors, the 21-acre blueberry barren at Crystal Spring doesn’t just produce blueberries. 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, and the fire was used for thousands of years by indigenous communities and then European settlers to maintain this type of natural community and keep it from growing up into forest, which overtime created a unique relationship with the plants found in this natural community that promotes vitality.

So far this year, Eastern Meadowlark have been observed in the barren as well as rare sedge, both of which are threatened or critically imperiled species that rely on this natural community. Commonly a hot spot for avid birders, killdeer, Eastern bluebirds and ovenbirds are among the many species observed in the barren so far this year. So while the pickings may be slim for blueberries, there is still much to see while walking through the blueberry barren on part of the five mile trail system found across Crystal Spring Farm.

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 above 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!