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While New Englanders have long enjoyed the brilliant yellow and red colors of fall foliage, there is a largely unknown beauty in Downeast Maine that is captivating.
Blueberry barrens in Washington and Hancock counties of Maine account for an 80 million pound harvest each summer in August. The blueberry crop thrives in the sandy soil that comprises tens of thousands of acres. New fields are created by foresting the lumber and killing off the brush. But blueberry bushes need not be planted - they spread and grow about five years after clearing.
During the harvest, tractors are equipped with one or two rakes, conveyer belts, and blowers. Drivers operate the tractors from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. over a three to four week harvest. The tractors move at 0.6 to 0.8 miles per hour. The blower initially gets most of the stems and leaves off the berries as they fall into containers, which are dropped on the barrens when full. They are later picked up by a forklift and trucked to the processing plants. A two rake tractor can harvest six acres in a single day. Most blueberries are processed in New Brunswick, where the plants can process one million pounds each day.
The leaves that are left behind soon turn to a dark Crimson color, but then explode into remarkable hues of red and purple in the fall. The large fields appear to be carpeted by these colors as you drive through the blueberry barrens.
The fields are mowed or burned every two years so that they produce the maximum amount of fruit. The first year after mowing they do not produce blueberries, but the yield in the second year is spectacular.
Mark and his family own a camp in Washington County, and each year they are able to enjoy the beauty of these barrens. "There are so few people that visit the blueberry barrens in Maine, and have never seen the explosion of color in the fall," he said. "It is a gift that I want to share."