Strawberry picking is a wonderful activity for the whole family. It is very rewarding too! This Strawberry Picking page is here to help people to understand how to effectively begin picking strawberries. While not terribly difficult, there are a few tips that can help you pick the best strawberries, whether they come from your garden or a pick-your-own strawberry field. This site (Strawberry Plants .org) is dedicated to spreading a passion for strawberries far and wide. If we are successful, you will want to use the information on this Strawberry Picking page the next time you go to pick strawberries!
How the Strawberry Picking Page Works
This main Strawberry Picking page serves as a hub for everything related to picking strawberries. All the basics of picking strawberries will be covered here. The information on this page should be sufficient to give any beginner the basics needed to fill buckets upon buckets full of ripe, tasty strawberries. When you are ready to put into practice the strawberry picking tips you learn here, be sure to check our directory to find Pick Your Own strawberry farms and operations near you. Without further ado, on to the strawberry picking information!
When Should You Go Strawberry Picking?
As a rule of thumb, you should always check with your local Pick Your Own Strawberries operation before deciding to go pick strawberries. There can be significant variability in harvest times (see the Strawberry Varieties page for more details) depending on which type and which variety are available for strawberry picking.
In general, however, the months of April, May, and June are when most strawberries are available to pick in the United States. The peak of the strawberry season occurs in April in parts of Texas and Florida. In the rest of the deep South, strawberries will peak in May. For the middle states, early June will see the peak of the strawberry season, and for the far northern states and Canada, the harvest peak will occur later in the month of June.
Strawberry picking peak times also varies regionally by state, and weather can dramatically affect production as well. Again, before going to pick strawberries, call your destination farm. The weather, variety of strawberry planted, and the location are all factors that will impact the farm and may affect when you can most effectively pick strawberries.
On a more specific note, the time of day also matters depending on when you plan to use your picked strawberries. If you will be using them or eating them right away, they can be picked at any time. However, if they won’t be used for a day or two, you should pick strawberries in the cooler part of the morning or on more temperate, cloudy days. Picking strawberries on hot and sunny days will result in them softening and spoiling more rapidly.
Why Should You Pick Your Own Strawberries?
When you pick your own strawberries, you can often talk to the people who grow them: the farmers. This is advisable for several reasons. First, it is often enlightening and educational to meet the people responsible for growing the food you eat. Second, they are usually have a wealth of knowledge to give regarding the plants they grow. And, finally, they call tell you about their growing practices.
Commercial strawberry operations usually do whatever they can to maximize the yield they can take to market. Often, this includes using pesticides and anti-fungal chemicals in quantities that leave significant residues you may not want to ingest. They don’t put the residual pesticides, fungicides, or other trace chemicals on the labels.
In fact, commercial strawberries bought in the store make the infamous “dirty dozen” list each year. This is a list of the 12 most contaminated common foods. Even after washing, store-bought berries often have significant levels of unnatural chemicals on and in them.
By going strawberry picking at a local farm, you are able to inquire about the agricultural practices used by the farm. Usually, a local strawberry farm uses much less chemicals in the cultivation of strawberry plants, and, therefore, have “cleaner” strawberries. Some strawberry picking establishments are even offering organically grown strawberries for picking these days! Another benefit of picking strawberries locally is that the berries are often more flavorful. Commercial operations do all they can to increase the size and number of strawberries grown. Often, the smaller and tastier berries get culled while larger and less flavorful ones get shipped.
Picking Strawberries: Preparation
While not rocket science, strawberry picking at a local pick your own farm does require some planning. Before getting in the car and heading off to pick strawberries, you need to do a few things to make sure your experience is a positive one.
1. Call the Pick Your Own ( or U-Pick ) Farm:
The weather affects strawberries. Both the amount of rainfall and temperature influence strawberry production more than most other garden fruits and vegetables. Also, large crowds of strawberry picking enthusiasts can virtually clear a field of ripe strawberries before lunch. The people who run the operation should be able to tell you whether or not it is worth your time and energy (and money!) to make a trip to the strawberry patch or not. Their hours may also be dynamic according to strawberry availability. So, be sure to call before you hop in the car to leave.
When you call, verify: strawberry availability, hours of operation, directions to the strawberry picking location, and the payment methods that are accepted. Many strawberry farms only accept cash or check, so make sure you take the correct payment vehicle.
2. Take into Account Time Considerations:
Strawberry picking can be time consuming, depending on how quickly you can pick strawberries and how many you are planning on harvesting. On average it takes between ten and fifteen minutes to find and pick a quart of ripe, ready-to-eat strawberries. This means it can take up to an hour to pick a gallon. Of course, with quick hands and abundant strawberries to pick, it can take less time as well. Calling your farmer will help determine strawberry availability and length of time it will take to pick the amount of berries you need.
If time is limited, most pick-your-own strawberry farms also offer pre-picked strawberries for sale by the pound. A quart of strawberries should weigh about 1.5 pounds. By knowing both how many strawberries you need and approximately how long it will take you to pick the strawberries you need, you can plan on buying the shortfall. (For more on conversion measurements, see our post on Strawberry Measures, Conversions, Substitutions, & Equivalents)
Additionally, plan to get to there as early as possible. At the peak of the strawberry season, hoards of people may be picking strawberries, especially on the weekends. In order to get the best strawberries, arriving early is important. If you arrive in the afternoon on a weekend during peak season, you might find yourself looking at a field full of unripe berries.
3. Know Your Goals and Pick Strawberries Accordingly:
Before going to pick strawberries, it is important to know what your quantity goals for strawberry picking are. Try to determine how many strawberries you will be using for cooking, processing, or eating fresh. Once you determine how many strawberries you need, try not to pick strawberries in excess of that amount. Strawberries have a notoriously short “shelf-life” and will go bad quickly. They will quickly begin to get moldy if left at room temperature and only remain edible for 2 or 3 days if refrigerated. Picking too many strawberries will end up costing you time and money if you aren’t able to use them quickly.
4. Take Any Equipment You May Need While Picking Strawberries:
Virtually all U-pick or pick-your-own farms will offer appropriate plastic or wicker containers for strawberry picking. They do, however, usually charge for these. So, if you want to avoid the fees, bring your own containers for holding your picked strawberries.
Any container will work, but be sure that strawberries are not stacked to a height of five inches. Stacking or heaping the picked strawberries higher than this will result in bruising damage to the fruits at the bottom of the pile. Do make sure that the containers you bring are sturdy. The inexpensive aluminum baking containers and cake pans may look like a good option in the store, but you should avoid them. When full of strawberries, they easily bend and warp and will likely end up dumping a strawberry picker’s hard work back amongst the strawberry plants unless great care is taken.
The best containers are the firmer plastic containers or metal baking pans. Glad brand containers work well, as do metal baking or cake pans that have sides at least three inches high. Pots can also be used, but they tend to be heavier to cart around while strawberry picking.
As strawberries don’t grow on trees, they are either picked sitting, squatting, bending over, or kneeling. For kneelers or sitters, knee pads or a garden cushion can be of benefit as well.
5. Plan for Good Strawberry Picking Weather!
Hopefully, it will be sunny and warm when you go picking strawberries. Take a hat and sunscreen so that you don’t get sunburned and a source of water so that you don’t get dehydrated. A snack or two might also be a good idea if you will be out strawberry picking for an extended period of time. Bugs aren’t generally a tremendous nuisance, but if it has been especially rainy recently, bug repellant might be a good idea.
Choosing the Right Strawberries to Pick
When strawberry picking, it is important to know which strawberries to pick. It is important to choose plump and firm strawberries. Make sure that the strawberries are completely red as well. Unlike tomatoes and some other fruits and vegetables, strawberries stop ripening at the moment they are picked. If you have ever wondered how to tell if a strawberry is ripe, all you have to do is look at the tip of the strawberry. If the tip is completely red, the strawberry is ready to eat.
Pictured below is the development and ripening sequence a strawberry goes through. Your strawberry picking should target fruits that are similar to the two on the end: no white tips and possessing a full, deep red color uniformly.
How to Pick Strawberries
Strawberry picking is most successful when the picker applies the minor technical aspects of picking strawberries to the task at hand. Here is how to pick strawberries:
1. Hold the stem of the strawberry at about one half of an inch above the berry between your thumbnail and index finger while cradling the fruit in your palm.
2. Sever the stem sever the stem with pressure from your thumbnail while slightly twisting the stem.
3. Allow the strawberry (including the cap and stem) gently roll down into your palm. If you are ambidextrous, use your other hand for strawberry picking at the same time using the same procedure.
4. Repeat step three until both palms are full of strawberries.
5. Gently place your handfuls of picked strawberries into your chosen container. Don’t press the strawberries or heap them over five inches.
6. Repeat the entire process until you have accomplished your strawberry picking goals or are tired of picking strawberries.
Strawberry Picking Etiquitte
Before going to pick strawberries, it is always necessary to call and confirm the availability of strawberries to pick, the hours of operation, and the prices. This ensures neither you nor the farmer has unpleasant surprises upon your arrival. There are usually kids romping about, so dress accordingly.
When you go strawberry picking, remember that the pick your own farm is likely how the farmer earns a living. Be courteous. The plants can be damaged or killed by traipsing on them, so be careful not to step on either the plants or strawberries. Be gentle with the strawberry plants and use a careful hand to spread the foliage while looking for strawberries. And, be careful to pick only fully ripe strawberries. Picking and then discarding partially ripe strawberries means that the farmer takes the loss. Making a mistake comes with the territory, but excessive carelessness can cost the farmer a lot of revenue. Additionally, minimize the amount of strawberries you snarf down while picking, unless eating while you pick is encouraged by the owner. It is difficult to abstain from sampling a few especially tempting strawberries, but be courteous and keep the freebies to a minimum. It isn’t an all-you-can-eat buffet. And, strawberries aren’t snowballs. Refrain from picking a produce fight with your friends or family.
You also have an opportunity to support the efforts of the farmer by joining with him in maintaining a healthy strawberry field. If you come across obviously damaged or partially insect-eaten strawberries, remove them and place them in the center of the row. It is particularly important to do the same for any berries you come across that are rotten, scorched by the sun, or diseased. Removing these for the farmer keeps rot and other problems from spreading to other strawberries. And, this makes the strawberry picking experience better for everyone!
Strawberry Picking: Care After Picking
As already mentioned, picked strawberries do not have a long shelf-life. When strawberry picking, you should always keep the picked strawberries in the shade and out of direct sun, if possible. Due to the heat that develops inside parked cars, it is also better to keep them out of automobiles until just prior to leaving.
Upon arriving home again, sort the berries. Gently pour the strawberries into shallow pans or on a table. Throw away any rotten strawberries and either eat or discard any berries that were squashed. As soon as possible, chill the remainder in a refrigerator without washing them. Washing the strawberries should be done just prior to consuming or processing them. Washing them hastens the spoiling process otherwise. Be sure to eat the refrigerated strawberries within a day or two. After that, they lose their flavor, color, and will shrivel, rot, or get moldy.
If you got more than you can eat in a few days, you can give them away, sell them, or process/freeze them for later use. The short instructions for freezing strawberries goes like this: wash them, cut the green caps off, put them in the freezer. For a more detailed explanation, see our post on How to Freeze Strawberries.
Strawberry Picking: Conclusion
Congratulations! You now know how to pick strawberries. When you are strawberry picking, you will probably get carried away and pick too many, despite the warnings on this page. That is perfectly fine! Use them creatively, and if you get stuck, you can create new recipes with the strawberry measures and conversions linked above. And, if you are really brave, you can Buy Strawberry Plants and start Growing Strawberries yourself next year!
(If you don’t have time to grow or pick your own strawberries, see our Strawberry Buying Guide for tips on getting the most for your money at the grocery store or farmer’s market!)
How to Store Strawberries
It is important to know how to store strawberries to maximize shelf life. Storing strawberries fairly simple. Store strawberries appropriately and enjoy them fresh for up to a week!
Strawberry Picking Robot
Strawberry picking robots are coming soon to a field near you. Strawberry robot technology is advancing, and may capture the industry one day in a yet-distant future. But, you can view a new strawberry picking robot here and be amazed!
Pick Your Own Strawberries
Pick Your Own Strawberries Directory. All 50 States. U Pick strawberries & pick your own strawberry farms. Strawberry picking listed by state and county. Find where you can pick strawberries today!
Get a Job Picking Strawberries
Strawberry picking jobs offer opportunity for seasonal employment around the world. It is possible to get a job picking strawberries in many countries. More here.