The Complete Guide to Picking Blueberries
August 2, 2022
If you are looking for a summer activity that’s perfect for a weekend morning, lets you enjoy the outdoors, and ends with a bucket full of tasty seasonal fruit, blueberry picking is for you. I’ve been saying for years that blueberries are my favorite fruit to pick, and now you can join in on the fun. Here’s a complete guide to blueberry picking, packed full of tips and printables to get you started!
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Why Go Picking Blueberries?
There are so many reasons why you should choose blueberries when you are looking for a fun and tasty fruit. First, they are super easy to pick. At most farms, the bushes are at a good height where they don’t require being low to the ground like strawberries or jumping to reach the perfect fruit like apples or cherries.
It’s also very easy to tell when a blueberry is ripe. While the berries don’t ripen all at once, when they do, they change color pretty dramatically to a bold but somewhat desaturated blue. They also have a long season, so if you go toward the middle or end, more of the berries on the bushes will be just perfect.
Of course, blueberries are absolutely delicious. Whether you want to throw a handful in a fruit bowl, eat them on their own, or bake them into something tasty, blueberries are an easy go-to. They don’t need to be peeled, cored, sliced, or deseeded before enjoying either. Just wash and eat!
Finally, blueberries are just cool. Every time I pick or work with blueberries, it’s like a mini science class. Going out to the farm is a great learning opportunity for kids, where they can see the stages of ripening in real time. When you get home, you can experiment with how the color changes, due to the pH-sensitive anthocyanins in these tiny fruits.
So let’s go get some blueberries!
Where and When to Find Blueberries
Not only are blueberries basically begging to be picked, they also tend to be pretty easy to find. Blueberries can grow in every state in the US, although only about half have commercial farms. To find a farm near you, check out pickyourown.org.
Some places in the northeast US and in Canada have wild blueberries. These are generally smaller berries that grow on smaller, low-lying bushes. These are not planted in the same way as cultivated berries, but they can still be managed by farmers on fields called “barrens.”
In the northern hemisphere, blueberries can be found throughout the summer. Varieties ripen beginning in June through mid-August. Depending on how far north or south you live, those dates may shift slightly. Here in Upstate NY, it’s peak blueberry season right now!
If you can’t find a local farm, you may be able to plant your own berries. Different varieties will work better depending on your climate, so take a look at this list of suggested blueberry types for a few places to start.
Types of Blueberries for Picking
In most cases, when you visit a you-pick farm, you will find cultivars of highbush blueberries. These can range in color, size, firmness, juiciness, and of course, flavor. Each variety tends to be available for three to five weeks, as the bushes ripen throughout the season.
Many local farms near me do not label blueberry cultivars, unlike apples and cherries. However, you may notice some differences from the June berries to those available in August, so it’s a good idea to visit your local farm a few times throughout the summer. Or check out multiple farms.
If you live in the south, you may instead find southern highbush or rabbiteye blueberries. These are hybrid species designed to tolerate the warmer weather of the American south.
Picking the Perfect Blueberries
Berries ripen individually, so early in the season, only one in ten will be blue, surrounded by a bunch of green unripe berries. Be careful not to pop those off with the ripe berry, as it will be ready in a few weeks.
Mid- and late-season, you can simply cup a bunch of ripe berries with your hand, and gently use your thumb to coax the ripe berries off the branch. Be sure to have a bucket nearby to catch the ones that fall – those were ready, and you don’t want to lose them!
During peak season, you can pick a lot of blueberries very quickly. Have a bucket or basket with a handle that’s easy to carry around, and it will fill up fast. Expect to gather half a gallon to one and a half gallons per person per hour. If you’d like, you can line your bucket with a plastic or reusable canvas bag.
Unripe blueberries start green, or sometimes even a little bit white. They then turn red and finally blue. The berries ripen from front to back, so often the stem area may still be a little bit red or green when the front is blue. Leave those berries behind, and pick the ones that are plump and blue all over. Ripe berries will easily pop off the plant without much effort, leaving the stem behind.
Blueberries can stack on top of one another in a basket or bucket without much worry, but don’t seal off or close them in while picking. Let them breathe in a bag or bucket until you get them home.
Blueberry lovers: this guide is for you. Learn everything you need to know about picking blueberries, like how to choose the best ones and what to make when you get them home!
Storing & Saving Fresh Blueberries
When you get your berries home, you can store them in the fridge. Use a breathable container, such as a berry basket lined with a dry paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Don’t wash the berries until just before you use or enjoy them. Freshly picked berries will last ten days, or sometimes up to two weeks.
You can also freeze blueberries. Place them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and freeze until they are solid. Once frozen through, add all the berries into a freezer bag and seal tightly. This will keep the berries from sticking together, so you can scoop out only the amount you need.
You can also preserve blueberries by making them into jam and canning it. If you’ve never done this before, be sure to thoroughly read the guide provided by the US National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning safely. They have recipes both with pectin and without pectin.
What to Make With Blueberries
Muffins and pancakes are the most popular choices to feature your freshly picked blueberries, and they are delicious. If you are looking to stay within those bounds, start with these two recipes first:
You can also get even more adventurous, using your harvest from blueberry picking in tons of delicious baked goods, desserts, brunches, and even cocktails.
Prep for Picking Blueberries
It doesn’t have to be messy, but blueberry juice can stain. Be sure to wear dark-colored clothes and dress for the weather. I always suggest socks and sneakers when picking any fruit, as there may be plenty of walking through rows of bushes. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
You may not need to bring any equipment to your local farm, as many will provide a bucket, basket, or bag for you. However, you may be able to bring your own from home. A canvas or mesh bag with a drawstring to line the bucket can also be closed tightly to take your berries home. It’s a great alternative to plastic bags.
If you are the planning-ahead type, I’ve put together a set of three printables all about blueberry picking: a planner with columns for date, farm, and quantity picked; a wish list of blueberry treats to make; and some blank blueberry tags that you can use to label your hauls throughout the season with the date.