It doesn’t get much better than summertime in the Pacific Northwest. One of my favorite perks: u-pick fields are in full swing! So far, I’ve picked strawberries, raspberries, plums, apricots, and cherries. Up next: blueberries and marionberries. Thanks to the heat we had in May and June, many crops are ahead of last year’s schedule.
Even if you haven’t made it out to the fields yet, don’t despair! Blackberries, tomatoes, and peaches will be ripe in August, followed by apples, prunes, and pears in September and October. Even if you can’t make it out to the fields at all, don’t despair! There are tons of great options that deliver fresh-picked produce from the fields to a parking lot or farm stand near you.
Here are nine tips for a better u-pick experience. I was going for an even ten but didn’t want to bore you with something like “Wear sturdy shoes!” Help us round out our list to ten by sharing your sage advice in the comments section.
Call the field or farm first. Check out Local Harvest or Pick Your Own for a field near you. Craigslist’s Farm & Garden category also has many local listings. Whether it is a field you have visited a dozen times or a brand new discovery, it’s important to call for days and hours of operation. Every farm’s picking hours will be different based on size, staff, customer load, and weather.
Bring your own containers. For smaller fruit, I prefer large lidded plastic containers. Cardboard boxes work great for larger fruit. Bringing along some newspaper is helpful to separate layers when picking fragile fruit like peaches, apricots, or plums. Make sure to have your containers weighed at the fruit stand before heading out to pick. They’ll deduct that weight from your total when you go to pay.
Bring enough cash. Some larger farms accept checks or cards, but in general it is a good policy to show up with cash. Unless you are me. Then you pick way too much fruit and just bum cash off your friends.
Pack light. At some farms, the parking lot is a quite a hike from the field. I just stick my driver’s license, cash, and phone in my pocket. Water bottles? Check. If I’m feeling generous, I’ll throw in a diaper for the baby. Bottom line: I will be packing fruit boxes and tired kids out so I try to keep the extras to a minimum. If you have young kids, spare clothes, snacks, and sunscreen could be tossed in a backpack or stroller to make your life easier. Here are a few more tips on picking berries with kids.
Respect the rules. Some farms are super relaxed. Others run a tight ship. It’s good to know ahead of time whether dogs are allowed or kids could run free or berries can be eaten while you pick. I appreciate the relaxed fields but totally understand the strict ones. Just be friendly with the owners and try to follow their rules (many post them near the stand).
Arrive early. Whenever possible, I try to get to a field first thing in the morning. I can’t help it; picking berries brings out my competitive side. Must pick all the fruits! Also, many fields will close for a few days during the peak of the season or a stretch of cold weather to allow the fruit to ripen more before being picked again. I try to jump on that first day a field is opened or re-opened. Keep in mind that fields with rock-bottom prices, loyal customers, and long hours will have more competition and less fruit. I will often pay more just to avoid an over-picked field.
Have a plan. Picking 100 pounds of peaches is great if you know what you are going to do with them. If not, it is a recipe for fruit fly armies to descend upon your home and drive your husband crazy. Not cool. I always try to have a rough idea of how many pounds I want to can or freeze or eat. Then to be safe, I pick 60 pounds more and stay up past midnight for three nights in a row, cutting and canning until I want to cry. This lack of self-control is painful in August, helpful in February.
If you need help with making a plan, check out these resources:
Keep track. Last summer/early fall, I picked (or picked up) over 1,000 pounds of produce. I know this because, like the homemaking nerd that I am, I keep a running produce spreadsheet. It contains the variety, farm, price, total, and result of each fruit. For example, I picked 38 pounds of Bartlett pears for .35/pound at Mt. View Orchards which resulted in 14 pints of jam, 6 quarts of pears, 7 trays of dried pears, and 2 fruit leathers. It gives me a pretty accurate picture of what my family consumes and helps me plan better for next year.
Enjoy the experience. Last week I was picking cherries in the gorge with my family. I stood on a ladder in the middle of the orchard, surrounded by green trees and sweet fruit. My daughter was piling cherries into the boxes on the ground, the sun was shining through the branches, and we had a view of the Columbia River at the end of the row. The Columbia River! While picking cherries off a tree! Seriously, we are so crazy blessed to live in this corner of the world.
Now go pick some fruit!
Leave a comment with your best advice or favorite farm for picking produce.
If you need some great recipes showcasing seasonal fruit, look no further than Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More (Amazon) by local cookbook authors, Cory Shreiber and Julie Richardson. This book is on my Top-10 Cookbook list. It’s excellent!
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