Berries are synonymous with summer. Ripe, juicy, and delicious, who doesn’t dream of berry shortcake, berry ice cream, fresh berry pie, berry scones, and more. Popular berries in Western Washington include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
June-July is the primary strawberry season around Puget Sound. The other types of berries come later, from July into September. And don’t forget cranberries, which come later in fall.
Washington State Berries
Washington State is one of the nations largest producers of many types of berries.
One of the first things to know about strawberries that grow in Washington State is that they are nothing like California strawberries typically found in grocery stores.
By comparison, Washington State strawberries are small, deep-dark red, extremely fragile (spoil quickly), but very juicy and jam-packed full of flavor (pun intended). This is primarily because Northwest strawberries are mostly grown for the commercial market, and especially the frozen food market. Washington State strawberries go straight from the field to the processing center and into large containers bound for the frozen berry commercial market.
Washington State strawberry history goes back a ways. Commercial strawberry production began in the Pacific Northwest in the 1830s. In the first part of the 1900s, Japanese farmers on Bainbridge Island (and later in Skagit Valley) adapted intensive cropping practices to supply the Seattle market. Their farming was interrupted in World War II. After President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to evacuate these American citizens from the West Coast. Japanese-Americans were interned in Labor Camps. Most never returned to their berry farms.
There are generally two types of strawberries: June-bearing and everbearing. The season for June-bearing Washington strawberries is relatively short–just a few weeks in June. In a “normal” year, Washington State June-bearing strawberries are ripe for picking from around mid-month until the end of June. But the season can start earlier or later and go short or long, depending on the whims and vagaries of you-know-who, Mother Nature.
Everbearing varieties of strawberries are usually available earlier in June and again in late summer. Some of the strawberry varieties you will find (both June- and ever-bearing) from Washington State growers include: Hood, Nanaimo, Puget Reliance, Quinault, Rainier, Selva, Shuksan, Tillicum, Totem, Tribute, and Tristar.
Washington farmers grow the majority of the nation’s red raspberries, around 70 million pound each year.
Like strawberries, there are summer- and ever-bearing raspberry varieties. There are also seedless and seeded varieties—for obvious reasons many people prefer seedless ones.
There is also a black raspberry. There are several ways to tell a black raspberry from a blackberry. A ripe black raspberry will be hollow when it is pulled from the stem, while a blackberry has a plug where the stem attached to the berry. Black raspberries are soft, usually roundish, and dull colored. Blackberries are firm, shiny, and slightly oblong in shape rather than round.
Tayberries and boysenberries are crosses between blackberries and raspberries. Along with the Marion blackberry, boysenberries are popular in summer fruit pies. Yum.
Salmonberries grow in many places around the region. Similar to raspberries, salmon berries are orange (salmon colored) when ripe. The flavor is underwhelming compared to many other types of berries, somewhat bland and not very sweet.
Washington State is the largest blueberry producing state in the country with over 120 million pounds annually on both sides of the Cascade Mountains.
There are five main types of blueberries grown in the United States: northern highbush, southern highbush, rabbiteye, lowbush, and half-high. Most blueberry varieties are native to the eastern parts of the country. The northern highbush is most common type grown worldwide and in the Pacific Northwest. However, there are dozens of varieties and a typical farm usually grow a vew different ones.
If you’re going to a u-pick farm, they usually describe their berries by the intended use: fresh, in muffins, frozen for pie, blueberry sauce or jam, etc. I’m not too particular about which variety of blueberry I pick or buy. I’ve never met a blueberry that failed me in pie or sauce.
Fresh Washington blueberries are available June to September, with peak season in August in most areas.
At other times of year, you can find them frozen, canned, and dried–or preserve some yourself. Find out more information about buying and storing blueberries at Washivore.com. If you want to preserve some blueberries yourself, download this fact sheet for preserving blueberries from WSU Extension.
If you want a truly wild, native (and most claim a much better tasting) berry, consider a day hike to pick native wild berries, including blackberries, as well as blueberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, and huckleberries. For advice and particulars, read this article from Washington Trails Association about Berry Picking Hikes.
You can pick the ubiquitous roadside blackberries found throughout the region in urban areas. There are two species you are likely to see. The Himalayan and the evergreen blackberry—both European species of blackberry. Some people have concerns about these “wild” berries, being either covered with automobile exhaust or possibly sprayed with a weed killer. Others state they are bland in flavor compared to commercially grown varieties. But, many, many people pick and enjoy these “wild” berries.
Blackberries and similar berries* season usually peaks in August.
*Marionberry and Logan berry are two of the most popular varieties of blackberry. Tayberries and boysenberries are similar but different crosses between blackberries and raspberries.
While Wisconsin produces most of the country’s cranberries, approximately one-third of the nation’s cranberry crop is produced in Washington State in Grays Harbor in Southwest Washington. The region celebrates cranberry history and culture every October with community festivals: Cranberry Harvest Festival in Grayland and Cranberrian Fair at Ilwaco on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Find out more about strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries in Washington State from the Washington State University Research Center for Northwestern Washington in Mount Vernon.
Puget Sound berry festivals
Below are the popular berry festivals throughout the Puget Sound region. Find these and other upcoming berry festivals in the calendar list below.
(Listed alphabetically by city)
Bellevue Strawberry Festival. With no small amount of sadness, the board of the Eastside Heritage Center has decided not to produce the Bellevue Strawberry Festival as of 2019.
Bremerton Blackberry Festival takes place over Labor Day Weekend on the picturesque waterfront boardwalk in downtown Bremerton. Enjoy blackberry treats such as blackberry pie, lemonade, and wine. Plus live music, kids entertainment, and beer & wine garden.
Burien Wild Strawberry Festival, usually in mid-June, is a longstanding community festival to celebrate summer with booths, derby races, corn hole tournament, Strawberry Beer Garden, and live music.
Burlington Berry Dairy Days, held on the third weekend of June is one of the oldest berry festivals in Skagit County. There are family activities, delicious food, live music, craft vendors, fireworks, a parade, and more.
Marysville Strawberry Festival, in mid-June is a volunteer run, scholarship and community festival, complete with a grand parade (Saturday evening on State Street) and kiddies parade, car show, carnival, vendors, beer garden. The weeklong festival has many activities leading up to the final weekend.
Vashon Strawberry Festival in July includes Saturday parades, car show, food, alternative carnival, local artists, vendor booths, live music, beer garden, children’s activities and other events.
Upcoming Berry Festivals in the Puget Sound region
(If nothing is listed below, there are no upcoming berry festivals in our calendar. We usually update our calendar beginning in May for berry festivals coming up in the next year.)