Take Your Pick
Fresh berries isolated on white background, top view. Strawberry, Raspberry, Blueberry and Mint leaf, flat lay )
Connecticut's pick your own and plant your own summer fruit options are about as plentiful as a bushel of berries. Whether you take a trip to pick from fields at a local farm or pick out plants to grow on your own land, June through August is a great time to time try your hand – and have some fun – harvesting these sun-ripened sweets.
The Big Three
According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, coastal Connecticut's three big pick-your-own field-grown items are strawberries (mid-to-late June), blueberries (late July through August) and raspberries (depending on the farm, you can find June-July summer varieties and late August thru frost fall varieties). Some Connecticut farms also offer picking the likes of jostaberries (a hybrid of black currant and gooseberry varieties) to peaches, nectarines, and more.
Pick Your Own
One of the farms that put Pick Your Own (PYO) on the map in New Haven county and the shoreline is Bishop's Orchards Farm Market and Winery. Each year, Bishop's rolls out its seasonal PYO program to eagerly awaiting customers who hover over the PYO page on the farm's website,
www.bishopsorchards.com. Most summer picking is done in fields fanning out from the farm's flagship Boston Post Road store in Guilford.
As a family farm operating continuously since 1871, off
ering PYO to customers is a way to keep up agricultural traditions and in keeping with the history of the business, says Chief Operating Officer Sarah Bishop DellaVentura, a sixth-generation farm operator.
"It's something that people look forward to," DellaVentura says. "It's a generational thing."
That being said, "...pick your own has changed quite a bit over the past few decades," DellaVentura notes. "Back in the day, people picked in bulk. They were canning and jamming and baking. Now, it's a time crunch for people. They don't have as much time to spend doing all of that or don't even know how, for that matter."
While some pickers do come to the fields with the intent of filling their pantries with jams and jellies or bringing back scads of berries to be frozen or dried for future use, many more arrive seeking a bit of old fashioned fun and entertainment from their berry picking experience, says DellaVentura.
"Now it's more of that entertainment aspect. It's bringing the kids out to actually show them where their food comes from," she says.
That means less picking, which equals lower profitability for many farms, she notes. Add in new federal regulations in the pipeline, including several being planned as part of the government's Food Safety Modernization Act, and the fine financial line many farms are walking to continue offering PYO to their customers comes into sharper focus.
"All of that is going to affect us and how we run our business," says DellaVentura. "At Bishop's, we have every intention of continuing to offer pick your own; we hope that people will understand the changes that may have to happen over time just to make it feasible for us to continue to offer it."
After all, PYO is a place where memories are made, for both the farmers and the families who visit, she adds.
"It is a thing that people look forward to," said DellaVentura. "They make their annual trips for the season with the grandparents, the parents, and the kids. Sometimes, we see four generations coming. The great-grandparents used to come out and pick; and it's carried on, and now, it's just a family tradition. We love hearing those stories, and we love seeing the families. It's just a part of us."
Plant Your Own
In this DIY era, is it any wonder that people are turning up at nurseries intent on planting their own fruits and berries? It's no surprise to the experts who are always growing great things in the greenhouses at North Branford's Van Wilgen's Garden Center.
Darlene Granese, Van Wilgen's Retail Greenhouse Manager, says strawberry plants are a popular seller and pretty easy to grow.
"Some people like to start from seeds in February, especially with little kids so they can show them how you can go from the seed, to the plant, to eating it," says Granese. "But we also sell a lot of plants."
Because people often put them in pots, many may think strawberry plants are meant only to last a single season. With proper planting, strawberry plants will flourish and return year after year, she says.
"If you're putting them in a pot, nine times out of 10 they're not going to come back; unless you throw mulch on that pot and cover that pot for the winter," says Granese. "Because if it's above the ground, it's feeling every temperature that we feel. If it's in the ground and planted, it's actually warmer, believe it or not."
Just like us, plants need to eat and drink; so making sure you're watering and feeding your plants makes for the best results. Strawberry plants purchased and planted this season will yield fruit this summer. In fact, many strawberry plants will have flowered and have fruit starting as they leave the nursery. Still others will continue to grow and ripen while awaiting sale – and the ripe berries never go to waste.
"We actually eat them, and customers eat them, too!" says Granese, laughing.
When it comes to growing your own blueberries, raspberries, and even fruit trees that yield summer-into-fall every year, just pick the plants you want from the nursery, follow the planting directions, and you should be on your way, says Van Wilgen's expert in all things perennial, Trevor Hicks.
Hicks says blueberry and raspberry bushes that will be sold and planted by area residents this summer should yield fruit this year.
"It's not hard," he says. "The biggest thing you have to worry about are the rabbits, deer, and birds eating your berries. There are some protective measures you have to do to prevent it like netting."
While the best time to plant is early spring, planting can take place in the summer and fall, too.
Van Wilgen's also caters to customers who want to grow their own cranberries, grapes, and fruit trees, from apples to pears, peaches to cherries.
"It's become very popular to grow your own," says Hicks. "People are willing to spend the money to reap the reward – to be able to eat what you grow."
Where to Pick Your Own
With a little bit of planning, it's easy to keep up with PYO seasonal offerings at local farms. Most have websites with a running update of what fields and fruits are ready to pick. Weather and crop abundance can change, so it's also a good idea to call ahead, especially if you're arriving from far afield. Many farm phone lines are updated daily during picking season to get the latest information.
Here's a smattering of area farms offering PYO summer crops:
New Haven County
Bishop's Orchards Farm Market & Winery
1355 Boston Post Road
PYO summer strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches
Rose Orchards Farm
33 Branford Road
PYO summer strawberries, blueberries, peaches, raspberries
Norton Bros. Fruit Farm
466 Academy Road
PYO summer blueberries, raspberries, peaches
32 Reeds Gap Road
PYO summer strawberries, jostaberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches/nectarines
Scott's Yankee Farmer, LLC
463 Boston Post Road
PYO summer strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches
Scott's Connecticut Valley Orchards
274 Kelsey Hill Road
Find @ScottsFarms on Facebook
PYO summer blueberries, peaches
Find more information on Connecticut Grown Pick Your Own Options from the CT Dept. of Agriculture at www.ct.gov/doag