Despite the horribly soggy spring we've had here in the Pacific Northwest, we managed to get out last week to pick some strawberries. I met up with three friends and their offspring over at Lee Farms in Tualatin (not organic, but they don't spray) and went home with 34 pounds of Hood strawberries. It felt so good to be out in the field on a rare, sunny day, bent over, brushing aside leaves in search of ripe, red fruit. And finally, after a couple of years of U-pick experience, I feel like I'm finally getting the system down.
Call First: Since this spring has been so miserable, some farms might not be open every day for U-picking because the fruit might not be ripe enough. Always call the morning you want to pick to double-check.
Containers: Many U-pick farms will provide flat, cardboard boxes, but I try to bring my own containers from home. I have a motley assortment of lidded plastic containers that I use, all of which stack nicely into a reusable shopping bag, leaving a free arm to carry any additional containers I might need. (See also: Kids) This trip I had to use a couple of the farm boxes because I didn't bring enough of my own, but I can reuse them on the next trip.
It's nice to use the flattest container possible so that you aren't piling lots of tender berries on top of one another. Mine are a little too deep, but they get the job done. Renee has a bunch of shirt-box-sized flat lidded containers that I think are perfect. I might have to steal them.
Kids: Picking berries with kids can be tricky. I like to devote at least 90 minutes (if not more) to picking, but my kids get restless after about 20 minutes. Luckily I have a group of friends who love u-picking, and all of our kids are friends, so we try to arrange to be at the farm at the same time. The kids end up hanging out together; they're happy and we're happy.
Last week was particularly adorable -- this group formed the Strawberry Army and marched up and down the rows chanting 'Hut 2-3-4, Hut 2-3-4!' We all felt much better knowing these precious strawberries were being protected by such devoted troops. Also, bring water and snacks. (You'd think a field of strawberries would provide enough snacking, but my kids get tired of eating them, which seems so wrong.) Also, make them help you carry berries to the car. Many hands make light work, etc.
Sun Protection: Long-sleeved shirts, hats and sunscreen -- you really need them because there is no shade out there. Renee here strongly believes that one sun hat is simply not enough.
Processing: So what do you do with 34 pounds of strawberries once you get home, dirty, exhausted and sore? You get back to work. Last year I made a ton of strawberry freezer jam, and we still have a ton left over. So this year I'm totally focused on freezing whole berries for smoothies and baking. I rinse them, cut the tops off and lay them flat side down on whatever baking sheets and pans I can find and pop them into our massive upright freezer. After they're frozen I bag them up in gallon zip-locs.
I want to pick at least 100 pounds this summer, but we need some freaking sun! Have you been out picking yet? Any good tips to share? To find a U-pick near you, check out PickYourOwn.