The only thing better than eating a fresh, juicy local strawberry is enjoying one you picked yourself. If you’ve ever gone fruit picking before, you know it leaves a lasting impression. It’s one of the few experiences where every one of the five senses is stimulated, and in the sweetest way.
Plus, strawberries are just the beginning; most regions boast a revolving door of fresh, colorful harvests for a year-round variety. Here are the important details needed to make berry picking a successful harvest to remember.
Right on Schedule
First, it’s important to get a general sense of what fruits and veggies are in season regionally. In spring and summer, you’ll likely find asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and sometimes beans. Summer also offers peaches, currants, gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries, figs, tomatoes, and my favorite crop of all: flowers!
To get more specific crop availability, check out the harvest calendars at PickYourOwn.org, a free information-sharing platform that connects farmers with foodies who want to engage with their food source. Simply click your state on the map and a list of your area’s active crop will appear. Once you’ve spotted a fruit you’d like to harvest yourself, contact the orchard or farm to be sure production is on schedule for the crop’s maturation during your visit.
What to Know Before You Go
For a quick crash course in fruit ripeness and identification, here are a few of the most common fruits and how to know when they’re ready.
- Strawberries can be picked before they’re entirely red, but be sure each berry is at least halfway there.
- Blackberries are ready when they drop off at the slightest touch.
- Raspberries can be harvested when easily separated from the plant.
- Pears should be picked early—when they’ve turned from green to yellow—and kept indoors to ripen.
- Blueberries will have a uniformity of color to indicate ripeness.
- Cherries are ripe when they’re heavy, shiny, and sweet in taste.
When it’s time to go, dress in old clothing you won’t mind staining, and have everyone in your group drink a glass of water before heading out so you’re well hydrated for a day of picking (you might want to bring a bottle or two).
What to Bring
Pack a hands-free backpack or leather fanny pack with essentials before you go. Depending on the weather and who’s with you, include the following:
- natural insect repellent
- gloves (blackberries can be thorny!)
- boots and long socks, even if the weather is warm
- cash (many farms prefer not to pay merchant fees on credit card machines)
- ceramic or stainless steel bottles of water
- baby wipes for sticky hands
- natural sunscreen
Also, bring your own containers. A fruit picking farm may offer them, but you’ll probably pay extra.
When you arrive, check a map of the orchard and designate a meeting place should anyone get separated. Find the facility’s manager for a quick orientation, or visit the main visitor’s center for posted rules, regulations, and tips for getting the most out of your time there.
As You Forage
As you harvest, try to unplug and focus on nature. If you need to keep your phone on you, silence it and take in the sounds of your local ecosystem. Bees buzzing, nearby farms working, and happy birds sharing the harvest all offer a cacophony of sounds to enhance your experience. Just as well, tread only in the rows meant for walking, being extra careful not to trample young plants that are still growing.
After Your Outing
When you get home, wash your fresh produce and separate each kind into life-extending green bags. Plan to freeze, can, juice, or dehydrate your surplus. If you’re especially ambitious, learn a new culinary skill to extend the goodness further. This includes making applesauce, pasta sauce, fruit syrups, jams, chutneys, fruit butters, pie fillings, and even salsas. My favorite thing to do is make homemade baby food from locally foraged fruits and veggies.
What fruits do you like to pick in the summer? Tweet us pictures of your sweet finds.
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.
Why It’s Good
Pick-your-own orchards and farms are so popular because the experience often becomes an unforgettable tradition. Connect with your food source by fruit picking engages all five senses, making foragers feel all the more excited about how they're getting their produce. Plus, your kids will have fun picking berries and learn about healthy eating in the process.