Do you plan to pick your own fruit at an Okanagan U Pick farm? What a great way to enjoy a beautiful day, especially if you're here on vacation! Here are some tips for fruit picking and keeping fruit fresh once you take it home... if you don't eat it all first, that is ;-)
U pick farms and fruit stands are scattered all throughout the Okanagan valley region.
Some orchard markets, like Davison Orchards in Vernon, also offer orchard tours, cozy lunch bars, petting zoos, ice cream and gift shops.
And you can find locally made products like jams and jellies, pies and other treats.
Okanagan fruit season begins in early June and continues through the fall, and ripening times overlap a bit with different varieties, location and weather.
Cherries are the first fruit to ready for harvest here, usually around the beginning of June, followed by apricots, peaches and plums.
Apples are the grand finale of our fruit season. Keep in mind that ripening times are a guideline and can very by a week... or three.
Fruit is generally harvested earlier in the South Okanagan, up to three weeks before other regions, because of the warmer year round climate in that region.
In the Similkameen area, including Keremeos and Cawston, you can begin to head out to pick your own fruit around mid-June. In the North Okanagan, mid July is when you can find fresh produce.
Call ahead a week or two before the earliest harvest time.
That way, should fruit be ready early, you're still in good timing. Orchardists keep a close eye on their crops, and weather pending, an extra day of heat and sunshine can make a difference in the degree of ripenining of fruit.
Best Time For Fruit Picking
It can get extremely hot in the Okanagan, particularly in the southern end of the valley, so the best time to pick your own fruit is early in the morning when fruit is still cool, and the hot sun has not begun to further ripen it. Most orchards with U-picks are open around 8 a.m. and ready and waiting for customers.
Wear comfortable clothing That you won't mind getting a bit dirty while you pick your own fruit. Cherries, especially, can stain clothing, and kids tend to get a little more messy.
Wear good supportive shoes. Flip flops on an orchard ladder just won't do. And if it has rained the ground can be wet or even muddy.
Prepare for changes in weather. Especially during the fall when the weather gets cooler, a jacket or sweater is good to have along. In the peak of summer, bring a hat and sunscreen to protect you from the hot sun.
Water, snacks and hand wipes All that fruit picking creates an appetite. Kids get hungry, even after taste testing their picks, and a picnic in the orchard is part of the fun!... :-)
Containers for your fruit Some U-picks have boxes or other containers for picking fruit, but many prefer you to bring your own. Pick up boxed from a local grocery market; banana boxes work well, and small buckets for children are best. If you bring your own containers, they will be weighed before you fill them so you only pay for the fruit that's in them.
Don't forget your camera! Of course you want to capture those vacation memories and special moments, so bring your camera along!
Have a great time!!
Really, it's not that technical, but here's a couple of tips to help you get the best when you pick your own fruit off the tree. With a few exceptions, such as pears, most Okanagan fruit will have the best flavor if it is allowed to ripen on the tree and then eaten fresh within a few days. But, it will store longer if picked before it is fully ripe.
As a rule of thumb, fruit is best picked when the it separates easily from the trees branch. If it is hard to pull off the tree, it isn't ready to come off! Try to pick fruit with the stems on.
Pears should never be allowed to ripen on the tree. Those that do will develop a gritty texture and lack in flavor.
Cherries should be firm to touch, with a smooth skins, and no bruising, tears or soft spots. Try to pick cherries with the stems on. Cherries are the most popular pick your own fruit because they're small and easy to pick.
Apples should be firm, and have a dull thud when you flick near the stem of the apple. Roll or twist the apple away from the branch with the stem on. Place apples gently into a box or bucket to avoid bruising.
Apricots once picked won't develop further in flavor, although they will ripen in color, texture, and juiciness. Pick fruit that is firm, smooth, plump, and well-formed with an orange-yellow to orange color.
Plums that are fresh ripe, and ready-to-eat are slightly soft and have a bit of give when you gently squeeze them. A taste test should reveal fruit that is soft, sweet and juicy. If you plan to freeze plums, or use them in preserves you can pick them slightly under ripe.
Peaches are best if they are allowed to ripen completely on the tree. Peaches don't store well, so there is not much advantage in picking them before they are ripe. If you do pick them too early, they will likely become rubbery and remain sour.
If you plan to pick your own fruit in large quantities to freeze, for canning, or to make jams and jellies planning a little ahead will make that job easier. Have you're canning and jam making supplies ready before you go out to pick fruit. That way you won't have to spend an extra day preparing when you get home.
If you do pick your own fruit for canning, once you get it home spread the fruit out on newspapers and separate any bruised or mushy fruit to use immediately.
What to do after you pick your own fruit ...if you don't eat it all first that is!
Generally, keeping fruit in a nice cool place is most important for preventing fast ripening.
Most fruit ripens well at room temperature, or just under, and when kept out of direct sunlight, will ripen at an optimal rate. Storing fruit in the refrigerator or a cold room between 35 and 45° F will allow maximum storage time for most fruits. Apples keep much longer than peaches or apricots. Some apples will even store over winter. Pears will store for a few weeks in the fridge, whereas peaches won't keep more than a week, even in cold storage.
Did those pesky little fruit flies beat you to the fruit bowl?
Ever hear yourself say 'Hey, where'd they come from?' I think they wait in the orchards for you to come pick your own fruit, and then follow you home!
When those darn red eyed 'drosophila melanogaster's - don't worry, I can't say it either! - start to come around, it's time to use up your fruit!
Fruit flies can be a problem year round, but are especially common during fruit season because they are attracted to ripened or fermenting fruits and vegetables. Although fruit flies, also known as vinegar flies, are mainly nuisance pests, they do have the potential to contaminate food with bacteria and other disease-producing organisms. Adult fruit flies can fly in from outside through inadequately screened windows and doors.
Quick fruit tip: Try putting a little wine in a bowl wherever the fruit flies tend to be congregating. They'll go, but they'll go happy!
The best way to avoid problems with fruit flies is to eliminate source of attraction. Fruit that has ripened should be eaten, discarded or refrigerated. Cracked or damaged fruits should be cut away and discarded in the event that eggs or larvae are present in the open fruit. Always dispose of fruit waste in sealed plastic bags, and remove it from the house right away.
When you pick your own friut it's generally a bit cheaper than if you buy it at the summer farmers markets, or from a fruit stand, but if you don't have the time, or don't really want to pick your own, produce from a fruit and vegetable stand or orchard farm fresh markets are the next best place to get them.
Most importantly, when you head out to an Okanagan Valley orchard or U pick farms to pick your own fruit....Enjoy!
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