Here’s our list of popular u-pick crops and when to pick them around the Puget Sound region. In addition, we provide links to a list of farms for each u-pick crop. If you are originally from the southeast or southwest United States, you will find the growing seasons in Washington State to be later than what you are used to—about one month or later, sometimes more.
While Washington State is known worldwide for large crops of apples and potatoes, many other fruits and vegetables are grown and available to consumers for stocking your pantry through the winter months. Our suggestions focus on the most popular u-pick crops in Western Washington: apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, corn, grapes, green beans, peaches, pie pumpkins (and winter squash), raspberries, strawberries, and tomatoes.
For a complete list of the crops available each month, download the Harvest Schedule at Puget Sound Fresh from the Tilth Alliance. Another great resource is their Farm Guide for 2018 (PDF), which is also available by free download to your smartphone.
Tips for successful u-pick outings
U-pick makes a great family outing. You can get outside, enjoy clean country air and sunshine. To ensure success, here are some tips for before, during, and after your u-pick adventure. So, plan to do some research and get prepared before your first u-pick outing.
Before you go on a u-pick
It’s worth noting that the reason for u-pick is not always an economic one. Often the price you pay at u-pick farms is less than what you’d pay at a grocery, farmer market, or the farm stand. But not always.
Still, there are other benefits: supporting the local farm economy, finding crop varieties not available at grocers, and preserving products yourself to ensure exactly what is in your food. For example, I’m allergic to cane sugar, so routinely substitute maple sugar in recipes that call for sugar, such as barbecue sauce and relish.
If you are new to u-pick, or if you are bringing young children along, stick with crops that are easier to pick, including firm berries and fruits such as blueberries, pears, and of course, pumpkins (super easy). Some of the more fragile or difficult crops to pick include soft berries and fruits, such as apricots, blackberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries.
Also if you are new to u-pick, start with a small amount, less than five pounds for most crops. There’s an old saying “a pint is a pound the world around”. This mean, for every pound of produce, you can estimate one pint of canned or frozen food–that’s also two cups, or about four servings. While individual crops can vary from this estimate (sometimes quite a bit), this is a good starting point for newcomers when judging how much to bring home. The average home canner only preserves 10 pints of any given food, often much less.
So, don’t plan on picking more than 10 pounds of any crop until you’ve determined if your needs are higher. Err on the side of picking too little, rather than too much. If you over estimate, you end up wasting food, which certainly won’t save you money in the long run.
Getting ready to u-pick
Be sure to dress appropriately and pack for a day-long trip. Dress in old clothing with long sleeves and pants; loose, light-colored clothing is most comfortable during mid-summer. Wear a hat with a wide brim or baseball cap and sturdy shoes. Don’t forget insect repellent or sunblock.
It’s a good idea to bring water, snacks, and disposable wipes or hand towels.
Another item you may want to bring is a camera, or your smartphone to capture a memory of the day.
Leave the pets at home—it’s against regulations in many places.
Before you head out to a u-pick location, ALWAYS call the farm you intend to visit to be sure their fields are open. Many farms have a phone recording updated each morning or evening letting you know about what’s in the field and ready for picking each day. Some farms may also utilize social media to get the word out about crop status.
Finally, bring containers for picking and for hauling your produce home, unless the farm provides them (some do, some don’t, so check).
At the u-pick farm
When you arrive at the farm, be sure to educate yourself, and your children, about any rules posted by the farmer.
Some rules that are always good to follow include: pick only the plants you are directed to pick, pick each plant or tree/branch clean of all ripe produce, walk in-between plants…never step on plants, stay clear of any farm equipment, and place any trash in the proper receptacle—better yet, if you brought it with you, take it home.
Be sure you understand whether you are being charged by the weight or volume (or piece), the farm accepts cash only or takes credit cards, and you are charged for containers (or can bring your own).
After your u-pick adventure
Once you get the produce home, prepare it for freezing, canning, drying, or another food preservation method.
After you’ve put up one crop, try another. Berries are some of the easiest crops to preserve. Stone fruits and most vegetables take more preparation.
Popular Puget Sound U-Pick Crops by Month
Note that we’ve listed the peak month for picking each crop. However, you should call u-pick farms one to two months prior to find out how the season is shaping up.
June-bearing strawberry season typically peaks in mid-June. However, there are also ever-bearing strawberry varieties that ripen twice, once in early June and again in late summer. Begin calling u-pick strawberry farms mid-April to mid-May for status of the current season, and which varieties they offer for u-pick.
July: apricots, cherries, peaches, and raspberries
Apricots typically peaks in July, however there are many varieties of apricots, some ripening earlier and later. Begin calling u-pick apricot farms in May or June for status of the current season and to plan the ideal time to go.
Cherries (both sweet and tart pie varieties) typically peaks in July. However, there are many types of cherries. First decide if you want sweet or pie cherries (or both), then peruse the farm list for the ones who offer the type you want. Begin calling u-pick cherry farms in May or June for cherry crop status.
Peach season peaks in July or August. There are two main varieties: “cling” and “freestone”. Freestone have a pit that is easy to remove, while cling types, well, cling to the fruit and are harder to cut off. If you are a peach lover, you might want to pick some cling varieties for fresh eating, but choose freestone types if you want to remove the pit for canning or freezing. Call u-pick peach farms any time of year to find out which varieties (cling or freestone) they might have, and again in May or June to get updates on the status of the current years’ crop.
Raspberry season peaks in July or August. Like strawberries, there are summer- and ever-bearing varieties. There are also seedless and seeded varieties—for obvious reasons many people prefer seedless ones. However, I encourage you to compare the flavor of seeded and seedless types, especially if you plan to freeze the berries whole. Even if you plan to make jam, removing the seeds from a few pounds of raspberries is not an arduous task. The flavor may be worth it. Check with u-pick raspberry farms in May or June for crop status.
August: blackberries, blueberries, corn, green beans, and tomatoes
Blackberries and similar berries* season usually peaks in August. Call u-pick blackberry farms in June or July for blackberry crop status. *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.
- Roadside blackberry picking: 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 comparied to commercially grown varieties. But, many, many people pick and enjoy these “wild” berries.
- Wild berry picking: If you want a truly wild, native (and most claim a much better tasting) berry than the roadside variety without the expense of buying them from a farmer, 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.
Blueberry season usually peaks in August. Call u-pick blueberry farms in June or July for blueberry crop status. There are many varieties of blueberries. I usually recommend you simply visit one or more farms, pick a few different varieties, and see which ones you prefer for your purpose whatever it may be from smoothies to muffins to pie.
Corn usually peaks in August or September. Call u-pick corn farms in June or July for crop status. If you go to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, plan to stop at a roadside stand on your way. I’ve found prices about half of those at Seattle area farmers markets and produce stands. If you go before the Fair, be sure to bring a cooler along, rather than leave your produce in a hot car while you enjoy the Fair.
Green bean season usually peaks in August or September. Early in the year, you may want to inquire whether they offer yellow wax beans, purple beans, or other varieties such as Fava beans and shelling beans. Call u-pick green bean farms in June or July for green bean crop status, or a bit earlier if you want Fava beans.
Tomatoes usually peak in August and September. For u-pick, the goal is often a sauce or plum tomato, which is simply a variety that contains less water and seeds for more quickly turning into diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, marinara sauce, and other canned tomato products. The other basic type of tomato is the salad or slicing tomato, including cherry tomatoes; both are best eaten fresh. However, salad types can also be canned, but may produce thinner sauce or require longer cooking to thicken. Hybrid (newer varieties) as well as heirloom (old tomato varieties) may be either type. There are so many tomato varieties, my recommendation is to decide what you want to do with them (for example, put up canned tomato sauce) and ask the farmer for a recommendation from varieties they offer. Call u-pick tomato farms in July for crop status.
September: apples, grapes, and pears
Apples peak in September and October. There are many, many varieties. Call u-pick apple orchards early in the year to inquire about varieties they offer and again in July or August for crop status. Again, I would encourage you to pick varieties you don’t know. There are many old-time varieties in the Pacific Northwest, originally planted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Many are worth discovering.
Grapes usually peak September. Call u-pick grape farms in August for crop status. Last time we checked, there were no u-pick, but there are several grape farms where you might be able to either buy grapes directly, or find out where and when they sell their crop.
Pears peak in September and October. Call u-pick pear orchards in July or August for crop status.
October: pumpkins and winter squash
About Puget Sound Fresh
The Puget Sound region supports a diversity of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, herbs, flowers and a wide variety of value added-farm products such as preserves, ciders and wine, cheese.
Puget Sound Fresh is a program of Tilth Alliance, created to assist Washington State farmers in the 12 counties that surround Puget Sound with marketing their products, keeping farm land in production, and encouraging the development of new farm enterprises.