Pick Your Own Fruit

Pick Your OwnMy favorite site for everything about canning, preserving and picking is Pick Your Own.  I’ve gleaned the best picking tips and tricks from there and from my own experience.  You can also visit their website for links to local farms in most states.

IMG_3717First, the availability of different fruits and vegetables changes monthly – sometimes even more frequently – depending on your location and the variety planted. As we’ve learned the last two years, the weather plays a big factor, as well.  Not enough cold winter nights, late spring, not enough rain, super hot summers , or like this year, too much rain all have a substantial effect on when crops will ripen, how abundant the fruit/vegetable will be, how big, how sweet, the color, and the ease or difficulty of picking. Always keep in contact with your local farm even if you think it’s too early so you don’t miss the season.  Many farms are updating customers on social media now like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. Additionally, call the farm the day you plan to drive out (or check their website for the most recent update) to ensure that fruit is available and that they’ll be open for picking. There are times that farms will close a day or two to allow things to dry out a little or to let the fruit ripen for better picking.

Here are some average harvest dates for common crops in the United States. You can expect that southern states will be closed to the beginning of the time frame and northern states nearer the end.

  • March – April: asparagus
  • May-June: strawberries
  • June- July: cherries
  • June-August: blueberries, blackberries
  • July-September: peaches, figs, tomatoes, green beans
  • July-October: raspberries
  • August – Figs, Fall raspberries start, early apples
  • September-October: apples and grapes
  • October: apples, pumpkins
  • December: Christmas tree

IMG_1223OK, fruit is ready to pick, the kids are excited, time to load up the car.  Wait, just what should you bring to something like this? What should you be wearing?   Is there some sort of farm etiquette?

Here are some of those pearls of wisdom I mentioned earlier:

  • Pack for a day trip – bring snacks, wipes and plenty of water.
  • Bring containers for picking and for carrying the fruit home. Some farms provide them, but usually for a fee. The farm we go to charges and extra $1 per bucket. We bought them once and now bring the same ones back each time.  Smaller containers like a sand pail are good for smaller hands. My friends young son brings his dump truck to wheel down the rows to fill.
  • Wear old clothes and close-toed shoes.
  • Wide-brimmed hats help protect you from the summer sun; and in the Fall, extra layers keep you warm. Don’t forget sunscreen for the back of your neck and exposed skin.
  • Most farms will have picnic tables and/or a pavilion or shelter to have lunch and rest. Pack a picnic. You’ll be gone all day and all that picking and being outdoors will work up a big appetite. Don’t forget the cooler. Eating outdoors is part of the experience!
  • Say cheese…a lot! Bring a camera or your phone to take lots of pictures.
  • When you arrive, take some time at the beginning to explain to your kids on how to identify and pick ripe fruit. The folks working on the farm can also tell you where the field has been picked out, so you don’t waste time looking for fruit.
  • These days, many farms also offer hay rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, gift shops, even restaurants.
  • No time to pick the fruit, but still have a hankering? Most places also sell pre-picked produce. Be sure to call ahead to order.

IMG_1207Rules? Yes.  From pickyourown.org, every farm is a bit different. Some have more relaxed rules, others more strict. You should seek out a farm that matches your needs – a grumpy farmer with strict rules would not make for a happy experience with young children. But you also need to teach your children that the plants are living things to be cared for and respected, not abused, and the farmer feeds his family and pays his bills from the well-being of these plants.  So here are some general farm rules:

  • Note and follow all rules and regulations posted by owners at their picking locations.
  • Look for the check-in and check-out areas. Before picking, note whether you will be charged according to weight, volume or count. Also, inquire if there is a minimum quantity requirement.
  • Place trash in proper receptacles or take it with you;
  • Stay clear of parked or moving tractors and equipment;
  • Health codes usually require no pets in the fields
  • Always call in advance to find out if the fruit/vegetables you want are available, to get directions, check their opening and closing hours and to ask if children are welcome (some farms prohibit young children who might damage plants).
  • Walk in the rows, don’t step on plants!
  • Some farmers frown on stepping across rows, even if you do it carefully.

When you get home, keep the fruit cool. Plan ahead to freeze, can, or make jam from the excess, and make room in the freezer before you leave for the farm.  Enjoy the bounty!

I’d love to hear your tips and experiences with picking fruit and then how you use it. I’ve always wanted to go to an apple orchard in the fall, but they’re hard to find in the South!