Berry picking during the summer is the equivalent of apple picking in September or pumpkin picking in October. There's something so natural about walking through fields of fresh berries and knowing that no matter what you pick, it was carefully grown and curated by Mother Nature herself. Blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are all in season throughout the middle of the year, and picking them fresh off the bush is an experience, to say the least.
At this point, it looks like many things will be opening back up including smaller farms and pick-your-own fields. If you've ever seen a sign that says 'U-pick,' now is the time to take advantage of the berry picking farm near you! Sure, you could just pick up a pint of berries at your local farmstand (which we also recommend) but there's something so fun and exciting about taking the chance to pick your own. It's a great way to appreciate where our food comes from and it's a blast for all ages, including adults. Plus, there's nothing like driving home with a car smelling of fresh berries!
What To Pick And When
Berries are in season all summer long but that summer season ranges from June to late August, depending on the berry. Strawberries are usually the first to poke their heads out from the ground-dwelling plants on which they grow, while blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries are bushes that spring later on in the season.
Of course, this can vary depending on where you live and the climate - warmer climates tend to bring plants up sooner rather than cooler climates. You can check this with a Harvest Calendar, as well.
Where To Find U-Pick Farms
U-Pick farms can be found practically anywhere local farms are. Keep an eye out for the signs that often line popular main roads and highways, and, when in doubt, Google. The best site to use for local U-Pick, though, is Pick Your Own, which allows users to click on their state and the link will direct them to a list of farms nearby.
Many of the maps will be divided into certain areas which makes it super easy to determine which farm or grove is closest to you and, from there, you can look up the farm itself and find out when U-Pick is open. The great thing about U-Pick is that it's all outdoors and there's usually plenty of space to spread out which means social distancing can be done easily. The interactive map by Pick Your Own is also a great tool to use to plan a day trip; let's say one of the farms nearby is actually several hours away, why not plan a day trip and make some fun stops along the way?
Bring These Things With You
Most of the time, a U-Pick location will make clear whether or not they provide baskets or bags (which can also vary in price depending on the size of each). If not, it's helpful to find out if you need to bring your own and, just in case, it can hurt to have a basket or two in the car. Jars, pails, and Tupperware will also do the trick as long as the berries won't be squashed on top of one another. If you're using a classic wicker basket, consider putting some tissue paper or paper towels down to line the bottom just in case some of the berries are a bit softer than the others.
If the car ride is long, a cooler practically becomes a necessity. Freshly picked berries are very different from those in the grocery store because they'll spoil much more quickly. Keeping them cool until they can be stored in the refrigerator (or eaten!) is the best chance of keeping them fresh. You don't need anything fancy for this - a disposable cooler and an ice pack should do the trick. Additionally, berry pickers should consider the clothing they're wearing. Long pants or high socks, shirts with light, long sleeves, and good walking shoes are all good ideas. Berries grow in bushes and are often unrestrained in terms of any brambles they might have, and while they might be better-groomed on a farm, it's better to be safe rather than scraped!
Store Them Correctly To Have Long-Lasting Berries
Berries do best when stored in the refrigerator. Leaving them out on the counter can encourage mold growth in as few as 24 hours and if this happens, sadly, they're unusable - it's not like cheese where the mold can be cut off (in most cases). If you're really unsure of when you'll be able to use all of your berries, freeze them! This puts them in a great position to be used in smoothies, for baking, and even for jams and preserves. Pro tip: don't wash the berries until right before you're ready to use them because the excess moisture can also encourage mold growth, even in the fridge. As a general rule of thumb, try to plan your berry-picking excursion around when you'll have time to use them, as well, unless you do plan on freezing them.