Picking Tips for Fruits and Vegetables

This month's notes: September 2014: Apples are in full swing!  Raspberries tomatoes, corn and most vegetables are being picked in most places, most blueberries and peaches are finished. Find a corn maze, hayride or pumpkin patch here. Make your own homemade ice cream including low fat, low sugar and other flavors))  Have fun, eat healthier and better tasting, and save money by picking your own locally grown fruit and vegetables, and then using our easy canning and freezing directions

Organic farms are identified in green!  See our guide to local fruit and vegetable festivals!. Please tell the farms you found them here - and ask them to update their information!!

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When to go

Each month brings the availability of a different fruit or vegetable . Remember, it varies on location, varieties planted, and weather conditions, so always call the farm before the earliest date below so you don't miss the season! And an even easier idea: later this summer (2009) we will have an email notification service where you can sign up on pickyourown.org and we will email you  before the crops you select are ready in your area!  We should have the sign up form ready by the end of July, so stop back then!

I've tried to put a state or area-specific harvest calendar on each web page but here are some typical U.S. dates for a few common crops, the South will be the earlier end, and the North, the latter:

  • 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: late apples, Pumpkins
  • December: Christmas trees
ALWAYS call or email the farm to confirm they have the fruit or vegetable you want and are open, BEFORE you drive out there.  I update the website every day, but conditions change rapidly, and I don't hear from some farms for a year or longer!

What to bring

  • Pack for a day trip - I always bring snacks, hand towels or disposable wipes and plenty of liquids to drink.
  • Include containers for picking and for carrying the fruit home (smaller containers are better for children's smaller hands), Some farms provide them, but usually for a fee.
  • Dress in old clothes and worn athletic shoes; you want to be comfortable and not worried about staining or tearing your clothes! If the ground is wet, it will really ruin any nice shoe, so wear your beat up old ones!
  • 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 (unless you WANT to go into work on Monday looking like a "redneck" :)

The weather could change without notice. If you get hit by a downpour, be ready to switch to Plan B and if you can't wait it out, go to the backup plan; such as a visit to a museum, tourist or historic site nearby. Your kids will remember it as "the time we went to pick fruit and instead had fun doing" something else.

Pack a picnic lunch and snacks. You'll be gone all day and all that picking and being outdoors will work up a big appetite (assuming the kids haven't already gorged on the fruit they're picking). Bring a cooler and back it with your favorite lunch and snacks.  Eating outdoors is part of the experience!

Don't forget the camera. You may want to capture those memories you're making. But remember you'll be out on the farm and bring a cheap or disposable camera, rather than the expensive one.

When you arrive at the farm, take some time at the beginning to explain to your kids on how to identify and pick ripe fruit. If you don't know see our tips (below) or ask the farm hands - they can also tell you where the field has been picked out, so you don't waste time finding the fruit!  And since fields and orchards can be large, make sure everyone knows where to meet up!

The fun doesn't have to end with just picking the fruit. Some farms also offer hay rides, petting zoos, corn mazes, gift shops, even restaurants. And if your children tire before you've gotten your fill of fruit, most places also sell pre-picked produce; you'll still get better quality and a better price than the grocery store.

Farm Rules

Every farm is a bit different. Some have more relaxed rules, others more strict. You need top find 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 (honestly, this one seems a bit control freakish to me!)

When you get home

Keep the fruit cool, see farther down this page for storage tips.  Plan ahead to freeze, can, or make jam from the excess.  I make room in the freezer before I leave for the farm.  See this page for a complete list of easy, illustrated instructions about how to can, freeze, dry, make jams, jelly, pickle or sauces from anything you pick!

Other tips:

These pages have much more detailed information that is specific to each fruit, including, freezing directions, canning,  drying, preserving, recipes, etc.!

And finally, what about turning some of that produce into jars of homemade jam or applesauce that you can open on a cold, dark winter day to remind you of the fun you had and how summer will be coming again?  Click here to see my incredibly simple, illustrated directions on how to make apple sauce and jams! And much more canning information is on this page.

Tips for each fruit:

(click here for vegetable picking tips)

 

APPLE

 

The time for harvest of apples is based on the condition and maturity of the fruit. An early indication of the approaching harvest time is when normal, unblemished fruit begins to drop. Check to see if the flesh color at the bottom of the fruit has turned from green to yellow-green. A taste test will also indicate that the starches are turning to sugar.

When all signs of maturity are present, the apple should pick easily with the stem still attached to the fruit.

Picking is done by rolling or twisting the apple away from the fruit spur. Harvested apples should be kept cold (33° to 35°F) for retention of flavor and quality. When stored in this temperature range, apples change very little. At 40°F, they ripen slowly, and at 60° or higher they mature rapidly. The best way to store apples is in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Click here for more information about the characteristics of many apple varieties. 

Also, see our pages on

tips for picking apples at a farm,

easy illustrated directions to make
applesauce,
apple butter,
apple jelly and
apple pie; and

our list of apple festivals!

APRICOT

 

Allow the fruit to become firm-ripe on the tree. It should be slightly soft, golden yellow, and easily separated from the stem. Fruit that is to be dried should first ripen fully on the tree. Apricots keep for about three weeks if stored in cool temperatures (40° to 50°F).

BLACKBERRY

 

Pick the fruit as it becomes soft and sweet and almost drops off at the slightest touch. It is best to pick early in the day, because blackberries picked in the morning do not spoil as quickly as those harvested in the afternoon. Berries that are picked at the proper time, handled carefully, and stored in a cool place will stay in good condition for several days. For more blackberry picking, preserving and cooking tips, click here!

BLUEBERRY

 

A fully ripe blueberry will be uniform in color and should easily come loose from the plant. If it takes any appreciable pressure to pick them, the berries aren't fully ripe. Furthermore, a reddish ring around the "scar" (indentation where the fruit is attached to the stem) also indicates that the berry is not ripe.

It is best to pick blueberries by gently rolling each one from the cluster with the thumb into the palm of the hand. When picking is done this way, the berries that aren't ripe will not come loose.

After harvesting, cool blueberries as quickly as possible to about 35°F. Harvest at weekly intervals. Also see more detailed tips and instructions here.

CHERRIES

 

Cherries, like peaches, continue to increase in size until they are ripe. They should be picked when they are of maximum size and full-flavored. Cherries picked before they are fully mature will not ripen off the tree.

Sweet cherries become firm when ripe, and sour cherries part easily from the stem. Look for heavy, firm cherries with a shiny skin and fresh stem.

Cherries that are to be shipped will keep longer if the stems are left attached. They will store in the refrigerator for two to three days.

For immediate use, they can be picked with or without the stems.

CURRANT

 

For eating out of hand, currants should be dead ripe and picked just before eating. For making jam and jelly, however, pick them when they are firm but not fully ripe. Pectin content is high at this stage. Currants have a naturally high pectin content and thus are excellent choices for jelly- and jam-making.

To harvest currants, twist the cluster off of the branch first, then strip the berries from the cluster. Don't attempt to pick the berries one-by-one.

ELDERBERRY

 

The fruit should be picked in clusters rather than as individual berries. After picking, the fruit can be stripped from the stems. Use care not to strip off stem pieces with the berries. When picking elderberries for jelly-making, use only those that are about half ripe.

FIGS

 

In the U.S., Figs typically peak from July through Frost in the South, and August and later in the North.  Usually the trees produce a crop within a month, and then nothing for several months, so check your local farm to find out when they'll be in season.  In the north, most trees only produce one crop per season.   For more fig picking, preserving and cooking tips, click here!

GOOSEBERRY

 

Gooseberry fruits are often picked in the green or immature stage, but when they have reached full size. They may, however, be left on the bush to ripen more fully to a pinkish color and sweeter flavor. The berries can be picked from the plant individually or stripped off the stem leaves and all (wear leather gloves) and separated later.

GRAPE

 

Grapes should not be picked until-they are fully ripe because they will not develop full flavor if harvested before they are completely mature. The best indications of ripeness are color and flavor. The natural bloom on the grape will become noticeable at the fully-ripe stage, and the berries will become slightly less firm to the touch.

Cut each cluster from the vine with a knife or pruning shears, handling them as little as possible. Lay the clusters in a basket or other container, using care to avoid crushing. Unlike most small fruits, grapes will keep for several weeks if they are picked carefully and stored in a very cool, well-ventilated place.

Keep grapes away from other kinds of produce because they readily absorb odors.

   

NECTARINE

 

Ripe nectarines have a creamy-yellow background color and yield slightly to pressure, particularly along the seam. They are usually ready to pick when a slight twist frees the fruit from the stem. They can be stored for three to four weeks at 30°F and high humidity.

PEACH

 

Peaches are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. Pick them when the ground color changes from green to yellow. The skin of yellow-fleshed varieties ripens to an orange tint, while the skin of white-fleshed varieties changes from greenish- to yellow-white. For best flavor, allow the fruit to ripen fully on the tree. Store at 32°F and high humidity. For more peach picking, preserving and cooking tips, click here!

PEAR

 

The fruit can be ripened on the tree, but for better quality, they are best picked early and allowed to ripen indoors. A few guidelines to use in determining whether pears are ready to be picked include: healthy fruits begin to drop; there is a change in fruit color from green to yellow; and the stem separates easily from the branch. To pick pears, grasp the fruit firmly and twist or roll it to make the stem separate from the tree.

If pears are picked before they are fully ripe, they should be ripened at a temperature of 60° to 70°F. This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh. If you want to keep pears for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator.

PLUM

 

As plums approach maturity, there is a rapid increase in sugar content and the color changes markedly. With blue or purple varieties, the color changes from green to greenish-blue or reddish-purple, then to dark blue or purple. In other varieties, the color proceeds from a yellowish-green to a more definite yellow or straw yellow, and then to their characteristic yellow or red. As the color increases the flesh becomes slightly soft, especially at the tip end.

Fruit that is going to be cooked or preserved can be picked when slightly underripe. Plums can be stored for two to four weeks at 30° to 32°F, but at 37° to 50° they will not keep as long.

RASPBERRY

 

Fresh raspberries harvested at their peak of quality surpass by far those purchased at retail outlets. Ripe raspberries will separate easily from the plant. To ensure that none of the fruit gets too ripe, berries should be picked every two or three days. Because hot weather ripens raspberries quickly, it is sometimes necessary to pick every day.

To harvest, use the thumb, index, and middle fingers to pick the berries. They should be placed (not dropped) directly in a basket or other container. Harvested berries should be handled as little as possible and kept in the shade until they can be placed in cool storage. Under ideal conditions (31° to 32°F and 90 to 95 percent humidity) the fruit will keep for a day or two. For more raspberry picking, preserving and cooking tips, click here!

STRAWBERRY

 

Strawberries that are picked when three-fourths red will develop full color and flavor in one to two days at 70°F. Berries that are only half-red will seldom have the flavor, texture, or size of berries that are more mature when picked.

The best time to pick the fruit is early in the morning when the berries are still cool. The fruit should be picked with the stem attached. This is accomplished by grasping the stem between the thumb and forefinger and pinching it off. Pulling and snapping, but leaving the cap on, is all right if the fruit is to be used immediately.

It is best to use or process the berries soon after picking, because fruit that is stored for several days will lose some of its fresh, bright color. It will also shrivel and generally deteriorate in quality. For best storage, keep strawberries at a temperature below 40°F and at a relative humidity of 85 to 90 percent.

For more picking, preserving and cooking information about  strawberries, click here!

 

I have free illustrated directions on making and canning jam, pickles, spaghetti sauce, salsa, ketchup, corn. for you on the website. And if you are looking for Canners, mixes, jars, pectin and other canning supplies at the best prices anywhere!  The sale of these products is what enables me to keep the site running and up to date. And I've also tried to find the best quality, most reliable vendors and best prices for you, too!


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Picking Tips

[General picking tips and a guide to each fruit and vegetable] [How much do I need to pick? (Yields - how much raw makes how much cooked or frozen)] [Selecting the right varieties to pick] [All about apple varieties - which to pick and why!]  [Picking tips for Vegetables] [ Strawberry picking tips] [ Blueberries picking tips]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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