Gardening: Tasty treats await at U-pick farms

Looking for fresh fruit and vegetables? There isn’t anything fresher than visiting a u-pick and there are plenty throughout the area. They can be found by word of mouth, visiting a Farmer’s Market and inquiring at the produce venders, or a list can be found at. Many of the u-pick operations have a facebook page which they keep updated with information on picking conditions and what is ready to harvest. Beth from Markerville Berry and Vegetable Farm opens her fruit for picking when 50%of the berries is ripe to allow customers to pick by the handful.

U-picks are businesses which are usually located on someone’s home. Be sure to park where asked and stay in the public area. Not all of the area is open to public. The area could be the owner’s private yard or produce that is reserved for CSA customers or Farmer’s Markets.

Ask before bringing dogs along as it could interfere resident dogs and cats. At this time of year, leaving pets in a car is not an option.

Come prepared with water, sunscreen, hats a coat and insect repellent. Weather conditions can change quickly.

Dress for the conditions and what produce is being gathered. Shorts work when digging potatoes or picking strawberries but can result is scratches when picking raspberries. Wear comfortable shoes that can withstand mud and dirt and in some cases, digging.

Some operations encourage you to bring your own containers, weighing them before you head out, others hand you baskets on arrival. Ask before heading out or bring containers on the chance they are needed.

When bringing children, work within their timeline. Young children have a short attention span. No one wants to listen to crying child or watch them run across the rows unwittingly damaging produce. Work beside the child helping them learn what is ripe and the best way to harvest. It will keep them attentive for a longer period of time. Children enjoy being productive.

Some of the u-picks have areas for the children to play but it is still the parent’s responsibility to supervise.

To get the most berries in the shortest period of time, start picking in one spot, moving down the row or to another plant when everything ripe has been picked. Jumping from place to place going for the best berries takes longer and makes it harder for the next person picking. Skipping around the patch results in the owner who either having to go down each row to get all the ripe berries or lose them when they become over ripe. There will always be a few overripe or molding fruit. Discard them in the area.

With strawberries one has to move leaves and search from one side of the row to the other. It is faster to use two hands and place the basket on the ground and carefully place the picked fruit in the container

Fruit on raspberries and saskatooms hang on the edge of the row as well as the interior of the bushes. Pick both places before moving on. Experienced berry pickers will bring a handled bucket that they can slip through a belt which allows them to keep the bucket at waste height and use two hands to pick.

When collecting vegetables, follow the worker’s instructions. If in doubt ask questions. Most workers are busy but very willing to help others learn.

Beth said that customers can usually be divided into two different groups. One comes for the experience. To enjoy the process of collecting food in the country or farm. The other is there to collect and buy food that is delicious and fresh. Whatever the reason, take the time to visit a local upick, get great produce, learn something new and enjoy the experience.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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