Each year we visit all the "Pick Your Own" berry places we can, so we can freeze and stock up for the coming year. Doing this is extremely economical and FUN! Berries are such an important part of our diets, they are full of antioxidants you won't find in other types of food, and make wonderful snacks and treats. We are heavy duty berry pickers- Each year we try to pick around 30lbs for use over the winter, since our local organic blueberries are only $1.50/lb. These tips are what I've learned over the last several years, and I hope they help you.
It may seem like berry picking is a no brainer- And it is! It's fun, it's a nice outing with the family, and it's much cheaper than buying at the store or farmers market. There really is nothing special you NEED to do before berry picking, so don't let this list trip you up. But, if you are likely not to go because you don't know what to expect, or have had bad experiences in the past, or just are a planner by nature, these tips are for you!
Before you leave:1. Choose a Good Day: For You. We're in sunny North Carolina, so if I can manage to go earlier in the morning, have 2-3 hours to dedicate, and the weather will be overcast but not rainy, then it will be a great picking day. If someone can watch my kids one morning while I go, that pretty much trumps everything else :D
2. Choose a Good Day: For the Berries. I have found that if you've had a dry week or two, then it rains a whole lot, the next day is not good picking, at least for blueberries! The berries can burst, which attracts all types of bees and wasps. This summer has been wet all around where we are though, and I found the berries had not split when I went, even though it had rained the previous two days. Blackberries or Raspberries need a couple of sunny days to sweeten up, so you may take that into consideration when planning.
5. Bring the Right Equipment. Depending on the berry patch, you may need to bring your own buckets for picking, or at least something to bring them home in- Plus some cash. At our blueberry patch there is no one attending the checkout, just a scale, so you weigh it yourself. I bring lightweight bags to bring my berries home in to make weighing easier.
At the Berry Patch6. Scout Out the Scene. It's worth it to take a minute to walk around and see if one area is more dense with ripe berries than others. When you go to a "pick your own" place, other people may have been there before you. You'd be surprised at the difference it makes if you get a good spot- Faster, better picking!
7. Taste the Berries. No brainer? But seriously- Have your kids do it too. You'll be surprised how sweet a fully ripe, dark blue blueberry or blackberry can be in contrast to one that's reddish-blue. It would be a bummer to get done picking and realize half of what you picked is not what you wanted. So do some taste tests!
8. Use Your Bucket! This tip works with blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and more. I hold the bucket with one hand, under the berry branches, and use my other hand to knock just the ripe berries free. If you're holding the bucket right under the branches, the berries just fall right in. Once you get into this groove you'll pick twice as fast. Plucking berries one at a time becomes no fun, very quickly! Occasionally check your bucket for unripened berries.
I also always grab a few extra buckets to help me out. Holding up a bucket full of berries wipes me out. So once my bucket is about 1/3 full, I stop and get a new bucket. I use a third bucket to leave on top of my freshly picked berries so bugs (and little fingers!) don't get them. Once the new bucket starts getting heavy I add it to the first batch and go back to picking. See the pic below:
Tips for Kids:
(Our first trip 3 years ago- Now they wear pants!)
10. Plan a Special Treat with the Berries. If you're hoping your little ones will help you out some at the patch, talking to them before hand is a great idea. Come up with a snack or treat all of them will enjoy, using the berries. Some things my son enjoys are smoothies, berry crisp and parfaits.
Do you feel ready to go now? I'm about 20 pounds short for my annual picking, so this encourages me to get back out there!!
If you simply aren't a berry or picker person, or wish you received even more benefits from berries, I have a great option for you- Juice Plus+'s Vineyard Blend. For under $1/day, get all those awesome antioxidants from a variety of superfood berries, plus green tea and CoQ10!