Berry Picking

Field Hands

Story by Tamara Scully

Photo: Chris Beatty

Berries may well be the best-loved fruits of summer. As June approaches, so does the season of berries. Beginning with the strawberries and languishing until the frosts of October, berries provide a lengthy time span for berry-lovers in the Skylands region to get out and savor the juicy goodness of a native fruit.

First, let's start with a berry primer. Not all berries are technically, well, berries. Botanically, a berry is "a fleshy fruit containing one or more seeds, which develops from a single ovary". True berries, then, include the blueberry and the cranberry, but also include the tomato and the eggplant! For various reasons involving fruit reproduction, raspberries, blackberries, and all their variations are not true berries, but are aggregate fruits.

However, for our purposes, we need to focus on the common idea of the "berry" in all its glory. Edible berries which can be found in the wild, and/or cultivated, in and around the Skylands region include: blackberry, raspberry, wineberry (Rubus sp.); currant and gooseberry (Ribes sp.); blueberry and cranberry (Vaccinium sp.); huckleberry (Gaylussacia sp.); elderberry (Sambucus sp.); strawberry (Fragaria sp.); and the mulberry (Morus sp.), which actually grows in tree form. The fruits we commonly call "berries" are quite a diverse group, belonging to numerous botanical genera. Additionally, there are multiple varieties of many cultivated berries, thus extending the berry season and allowing for subtle differences in taste, texture, and appearance. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, blueberries, and currants are all cultivated crops. They are also all found in the wild in Northwest New Jersey. Mulberry trees can also be found in the wild, as can a form of the cranberry. Huckleberries are a wild berry which resembles the blueberry, and many people use the name interchangeably.

Wild Berries

In addition to edible berries, there are many wild berries which are either unpalatable­or toxic­to humans. Some berries with poisonous qualities include: some nightshade varieties, pokeweed berries, american bittersweet, mistletoe, poison sumac berries, and numerous other berries that may grow on flowers (such as lily-of-the-valley), vines, or bushes. Some of these berries may resemble edible fruits. Thus, it is imperative to consult an accurate, detailed field guide prior to consuming berries in the wild.

While wild berry picking is still possible, many of the old-time berry picking areas have either been developed as residential areas, have been preserved in state or national parks, or are privately owned. There are still some areas that "the locals" know about, and perhaps can be found by talking to long-time residents, or happened upon by chance. The Rubus sp. berries love to grow alongside dirt roads, or at the edge of clearings. Park rangers can provide information about berries in their domain, and whether or not any picking is permitted. Like anything else, too many people can spoil a great berry picking spot, so finding a reliable road-side spot might not be easy! And, just remember that the bears and the snakes enjoy the berries as well, and that many berries do have thorns, so wear appropriate clothing and take precautions. Make noise, bring a whistle and be careful where you reach or step.

Cultivated Berries

Photo: Donna Traylor

Luckily, perfect berries can also be found growing at numerous farms which cultivate them. Some of this produce is sold at roadside stands; some of it finds its way to farmers' markets; some is sold to local restaurants or small grocery stores; and some is grown on farms which have "pick-your-own" berry patches. Some farmers cultivate small plots of several berry varieties, along with other produce; some farmers have more extensive berry patches, with several acres in berry varieties. Both can have retail and "pick-your-own" available. Most large-scale berry production occurs in Central and Southern New Jersey where farmers produce blueberries and cranberries in large quantities.

No matter where or what type of berry you decide to pick or to buy pre-picked, there are some things to know to make the experience more enjoyable. First, call ahead to find out crop and picking conditions. Not all varieties of each berry will be ripe at the same time. Thus, if you are specifically looking for a certain cultivar, such as the Taylor red raspberry, you have to go the third week in July, and not the second. Likewise, if you want to have the most varieties available at once, you need to call and inquire about "peak season". Otherwise, find out if the crop is plentiful and come home with "potluck", which might be the most fun of all! Second, remember that most berries are fragile. Care must be taken when picking them, so as not to mush them, and when storing them, for the same reason. Find out if containers are provided at "pick-your-own" farms, and if not, ask what size is appropriate for the type of berry. If you pick raspberries into a quart container, you will probably end up with a lot of mushy berries on the bottom! Also remember that berries MUST BE PICKED ALREADY RIPENED. They do not ripen after picking. Third, plan on consuming, processing, or freezing berries within a few days of purchase. Raspberries are the most fragile and should be used within 48 - 72 hours, while strawberries and blueberries can probably last a bit longer. All berries can be frozen for future use in baked goods, sauces, jams or jellies, and even wines. Lastly, if you are picking, remember the sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and hat. And because berries are ripe in the heat of summer, don't forget plenty of water.

Now that you know the "what", the "where", and the "how" about berries, let's talk about the "why". Obviously, the best reason is because they taste so good! While many berries taste sweet and refreshing just-picked, others are preferred as jams and jellies, or processed in baked goods. The elderberry is one of the latter category. Nutritionally, berries recently have been in the news for their antioxidant qualities, which are said to improve overall health. The high vitamin A, C, and E content of most berries, along with fiber and essential minerals such as potassium, provide these numerous health benefits. The antioxidant qualities are reported to provide protection against cancer, heart disease, and susceptibility to illnesses. Berries have been used for centuries as natural remedies for everything from stomach upset to urinary tract infections. Berries are also low in calories. Taste plus health benefits are good reasons to enjoy the plethora of berries available to you in the Skylands.

Remember, berry picking is an age-old tradition, enduring through thousands of years. The first settlers in North America were overwhelmed by the array of berries, and the Native Americans provided them with the needed guidance regarding edible fruits and medicinal properties. The cultivation of berries progressed to their hybridization, whereby new types of berries could be created through mixing of the parent genes. For example, raspberry crossed with blackberry has resulted in: marionberries, loganberries, and boysenberries, as well as other varieties! While these particular hybrids do not thrive in this area, and are not generally cultivated by farmers, home gardeners may have some success with them. Some berries, such as the wineberry, were imported from abroad, and now are found plentifully in the wild here in the Skylands.

No matter how berries may technically be classified, berries are the summer fruit. And berries in the Skylands region are, thankfully, quite abundant. So take a trip and indulge in berry picking, or stop at the farmers' market and pick up a few pints. Either way, the June-October berry season, and the wide variety of berries available, will provide much enjoyment all summer!

The New Jersey Farm Bureau provides a list of its member farms, which includes crop and contact information. Another helpful website is the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Jersey Fresh , which lists farmers' markets, roadside stands, and "pick-your-own" operations within each county. This site also provides a "Jersey Fresh" guide to what is in season. Or check our own regional Map and Guide to Farms.

Here is a general guide to ripening times for some local berry types, to get you started:

  • Strawberry: June
  • Raspberry (summer): late June - early August
  • Raspberry (fall): late August - October frost
  • Blackberry: July/August
  • Gooseberry June/July
  • Currants: June/July
  • Blueberry: July/August

Additionally, the wild varieties can usually be found in July and August as well. The wild berries will fruit around the same time as the cultivated plants, but may fruit for longer or shorter periods of time. Remember, the cultivated varieties have been chosen for specific qualities, such as size, taste, winter-hardiness, thornlessness, ease of growing, etc., that can affect the season time/length in comparison to their wild cousins. Mulberries, elderberries, huckleberries and wineberries are not widely cultivated by farmers, but many home gardeners do grow them, and they are also abundant in the wild. Happy berry hunting!

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31 Jul 2015, 08:31
Is there anywhere in Eastern PA or NJ where you can buy/pick fresh huckleberries?
Marsha steckelman
02 Aug 2014, 17:27
What farm has blueberry picking over Labor Day to go with grandkids
Esther Zorzi
31 May 2014, 17:06
Hi all I was wandering where you might be able to get cranberries. I can not even find them in the store. Thank you for your help.
maria elsa de jesus
27 Mar 2014, 21:58
I'am from Philippines for this time i'm looking for job as picking fruits in your beautiful country please tell me where did i apply.thanks
Frank Atkins
21 Jul 2013, 08:22
Where can I pick blackberries in northern new jersey?
18 Sep 2012, 17:33
I am looking for huckleberries. Is that possible this time of year on the east coast?
Elias Vargas
22 Mar 2012, 10:12
please send me info, where I can buy seeds ofั all the types of berry .\r\nThank you
Nancy S.
11 Oct 2011, 17:48
Does anyone know where I can buy fresh or frozen huckleberries in NJ or PA? I am in the Philadelphia region and do not mind driving. Thanks.
kory carroll
05 Jul 2011, 18:30
where can we pick our own Blackberries in South Jersey?
04 Jul 2011, 04:43
where can i pick blueberries with my family today July 4th
Phyllis Crawford
30 Jun 2011, 10:51
Where can I pick blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, peaches and apples here in NJ. I live in Bergen County. Thank you. Phyllis Crawford
11 Aug 2010, 08:59
Where can I pick BLUEBERRIES in North Jersey this late in the season.\r\n\r\nThx
janice scheider
08 Aug 2010, 09:06
where can I pick blackberries in New Jersey. I want to make jelly
Rick Sawyer
07 Aug 2010, 15:47
Where can I get fresh boysenberries in NJ? (preferably South Jersey)
leona morgan
02 Aug 2010, 13:44
can you pick blueberries in high point state park
ilan galili
05 Jul 2010, 18:14
Hi I'm a N.j retailer in longbranch and I have a big demand for rasberries blackberries gooseberries and currants please advise me where I can find at. Wholesale from a farm
04 Jun 2010, 04:29
Warren County:\r\nTry Donaldson's Farm, special strawberry festival and family events. Hackettstown, website.\r\n\r\nTranquility Farm Andover check out website for details.\r\n\r\n(Raspberries) LongMeadow Farm in Hope. No website. See also\r\n\r\n
kuini naulumatua
27 Mar 2010, 16:41
Fatimah baker
06 Dec 2009, 10:39
I would like to know where i can go berry and cherry picking for my girl scout group and my daughters school. Am trying to get them to do something diffrernt instead of the ordanairy apple picking.But the problem is that we live in New York area Brooklyn,so i need some ideas. please help me. thank you
23 Jun 2009, 13:09
I was wondering if anybody knows any places in N.J.that you could pick berries. Especialy blackberrys.
Jim Miller
08 Jun 2009, 08:09
Where do they have pick your own strawberries in Warren County?
01 Jun 2009, 14:48
Where can i go cherry picking in NJ?
15 May 2009, 07:09
Where in the tri state area can i go mulberry picking???
Gloria Praedin
13 May 2009, 05:24
I would like to know where and when I can pick my own blueberries in the South Jersey Area\r\n\r\nThank you\r\nGloria Praedin
Patrick Walsh
29 Mar 2009, 14:37
We used to eat those berries when we were kids. I was searching this same thing to prove to my sister that those berries were growing on a tree and not a bush. I believe those berries to be some type of Boisenberry. \r\nWe used to eat boatloads of those things and it never killed us.
Irfan Bagas
12 Nov 2008, 16:16
pick your own in bolton \r\nastley bridge
17 Sep 2008, 16:23
I want to know direcctions how to get to apple picking in new jersy.
26 Aug 2008, 09:57
I was wondering if any there are any places for berry picking open for the labor day weekend? my family is visiting and they would love to go there. \r\n\r\nThanks\r\nDipy
22 Aug 2008, 17:47
I notice that tomatoes are included as berries, however, they will continue to ripen after picking, whereas strawberries etc., do not.\r\n\r\n
20 Jul 2008, 06:47
I'm looking for places to go blueberry picking in north jersey, there are several central & south.\r\n\r\nThank you!
06 Jul 2008, 09:16
the dark berries that grow on trees are mulberries. very sweet!
Patricia Haines
01 Jul 2008, 06:40
I am looking for something to do with my grandsons 4 and 2 years of age (approx). Are strawberries still being picked and where.
17 Jun 2008, 16:58
does anyone know what kind of berries these dark, dark, purple or black berries are which are growing from trees around S. Jersey? I don't think they're blackberries because they're on trees, not bushes. They're awesomely delicious but I actually feel a little light-headed after I eat a bunch of them. I want to make sure it's ok to indulge!
Rex Villarruz
14 Jun 2008, 11:34
please let me know were can i pick strawberry which is ripe right now.\r\n\r\nThanks
10 Jun 2008, 04:34
Just wanted to say thank for all the info, I will be strawberry picking hopefully this week.
09 Jun 2008, 10:17
Oh! It could also be::\r\n\r\nValley View Farms\r\n 290 Rt. 206 South, Newton\r\n Directions: From Rt. 80 approx. 10 mi. N on Rt. 206, just before the town of Newton\r\n Phone: (973) 579-7271\r\n Open: Daily, Easter - Christmas, 10 am - 6 pm\r\n Roadside Market: Complete line of fruits & vegetables; apples\r\n Pick Your Own: Strawberries; summer: assorted vegetables & u-cut flowers; raspberries; fall: pumpkins & gourds\r\n Also Available: Easter flowers; perennials; bedding plants; potted plants; hanging baskets; mums; pumpkins; gourds; Indian corn; stalks; cider; fresh-cut Christmas trees; wreaths; roping; grave blankets; fall - free hay rides to pumpkin patch Sat. & Sun. 11 am - 5 pm; pumpkin fields daily throughout October; group tours by appt; WIC and Senior FMNP checks accepted\r\n\r\n
09 Jun 2008, 10:15
Mary::\r\n\r\nThe only place I found on Rt. 206 in Sussex County is:\r\n\r\nSussex County Strawberry Farm\r\n 565 Route 206 N, Andover\r\n Directions: Exit 25 off of Rt. 80. 9 mi North on Rt 206. Farm located on the right\r\n Phone: (973) 579-5055\r\n Web site:\r\n Open: April 1, Call for hours and availability\r\n Roadside Market: strawberries (in season), pumpkins, apples\r\n Pick Your Own: Strawberries (early June), raspberries (September)\r\n Also Available: Picnic tables, bedding plants, potting soils, cedar mulch (bags only), fall decorations
Mary McDonald
09 Jun 2008, 09:02
I would like to know the name of the old POST, pick your own strewberrys on Rt. 206 just out side of Newton NJ. \r\nThank you Mary.
Mary McDonald
09 Jun 2008, 09:02
I would like to know the name of the old POST, pick your own strewberrys on Rt. 206 just out side of Newton NJ. \r\nThank you Mary.
02 Jun 2008, 08:39
pick your own strawberry in NJ\r\n\r\ncan you foward me a list of places to pick your own berry???\r\nthanks
23 May 2008, 05:43
A great place for stawberries is Wemrock Orchards in Freehold, NJ. They are located on business Rt 33 and Wemrock Rd. These are the absolute best strawberries I have ever tasted. they are open on weekends 10-5 and weekdays 1-5\r\nWEMROCK ORCHARDS \r\nHwy 33 & Wemrock Road \r\nFreehold, NJ 07728\r\nPHONE: (732) 431-2668\r\n \r\n
18 May 2008, 20:21
Hey everyone:\r\n\r\nI'm trying to post where to find listings but the site thinks I'm spam. =(\r\n\r\nIf you'd like email me directly at\r\njenniferparties [at] yahoo [dot] com\r\n\r\nI can send the links to make things easy! \r\n\r\nJust put "Pick-your-own" in the subject line so I don't delete you as, well: spam *haha*
07 May 2008, 19:59
A good resource:\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
06 May 2008, 18:09
Please send me information on where we can pick strawberries in NW NJ. Thanks.
06 May 2008, 04:49
J Wang
23 Apr 2008, 12:37
please let me have this year's strawberry picking info.
23 Apr 2008, 09:06
looking for a place to go strawberry picking!
Daniel Cho
21 Apr 2008, 06:55
Pick my own ~~
20 Apr 2008, 15:15
Looking for info on strawberry picking.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThanks!\r\nPatsy
Susan Gibney
29 Mar 2008, 18:51
Looking for info on where to bring my family to pick strawberries.\r\n\r\nThanks!\r\nSusan
Susan Gibney
29 Mar 2008, 18:51
Looking for info on where to bring my family to pick strawberries.\r\n\r\nThanks!\r\nSusan
Lisa Camacho
21 Mar 2008, 06:52
Please inform me when there is berry & apple picking in NJ.\r\n\r\nThank you,\r\nLisa
mike adamo
18 Feb 2008, 04:48
please send info where i can pick various types of berries and where i may do so\r\n\r\nthank you

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