ISSUE 79  |  Summer Picnics

Summer Berries: How to Pick Your Own Like A Pro

July 04, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Erin Boyle

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Fists full of berries must be one of the chief joys of summer. Eating a berry picked directly from the source and warmed in the hot summer sun comes as close to perfection as I can imagine.

Picking your own berries from local farms is a terrific way to support your local agricultural economy, and because labor costs account for the high price of berries at the market, heading to a pick-your-own farm usually means a cost savings for you, too. In my neck of the woods, strawberry season is just starting to wane but there’s still plenty of time to head to a local U-Pick or Pick Your Own farm and get in on the blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Above: Arkansas blueberry fields by Natalie Freeman of Tend Collective.

In case you’re thinking of heading out to a farm, I’ve gathered a few simple tips to help you navigate the Pick-Your-Own experience.

Above: Buckets of blueberries by Natalie Freeman of Tend Collective.

Plan ahead. By my very rough estimation, folks tend to head to the berry farm and return with roughly four times the berries they planned to bring home. I’m not suggesting that you ration your berry intake, but it might be wise to clear a shelf or two in the refrigerator before you come home with berries enough for an army. Calling your local farm to make sure that whatever you’re hoping for is in season is another good step. Pickyouown.org is a sweet resource for finding nearby farms.

Above: Rebecca Baust in smart strawberry picking gear via The Daily Muse.

Dress appropriately. Gardeners know better than most that a hot day working in the garden requires skin protection. Sunscreen is a smart idea, but a loose cotton shirt like the one photographer Rebecca Baust  has on is even better. (We’re partial to J. Crew’s Selvedge Chambray Shirt; $98)  Long sleeves will keep you protected, and cotton will keep you cool. Investing in a proper sun hat isn’t such a bad idea, either. See 10 Easy Pieces: Gardening Hats for more options.

Above: Strawberry fields at Flanagan Farm in Virgina by Amanda Karnes.

Stick to your row. It can be tempting—especially in low-growing strawberry fields—to hop from row to row picking fruit, but the courteous (and efficient) thing to do is to stick to your own row.

Above: Blueberries by Natalie Freeman of Tend Collective.

Sample sparingly. I’m the first to admit that I could plop myself in front of a raspberry thicket and eat the thing clean. But when you’re at a Pick-Your-Own farm, the farmers are trusting you to pay for what you pick. Take a sample or two, but save the rest for later.

Above: Strawberry haul by Camille Storch of Wayward Spark.

Think about storage. If you’re going berry picking with an eye toward preserving the fruits to last through the winter, you’ll need to know how to prepare them for longterm storage. In case prepping jam in the middle of winter is more appealing than firing up the stove in July, Camille Storch of Wayward Spark has a terrific set of instructions for freezing strawberries right here.

Above: A raspberry patch in England by Swamibu.

Know your berries. Don’t be shy about asking the staff at the farm for pointers on which berries are ripe. There’s nothing more disappointing (for you, or the farmer) than picking a whole basketful of unripe berries. Ripeness indicators vary from berry to berry, but the general rule of thumb is that ripe berries are richer in color and weightier than their not-quite-ripe cousins.

Now we want to know: what are your favorite Pick-Your-Own Farms? We’ve got a hankering for a summer roadtrip based around prime harvest times.

Looking for a place to display your berries once home? 5 Ceramic Berry Baskets.