Tasty pickins: Get your own right off the bush

“I’m up to my eyeballs in berries,” my friend told me the other day when I called.   
I know the feeling. Every time my kids and I go out to a pick-your-own field, we just can’t stop. The days afterward are delicious, filled with pies, cobblers, fritters, jam for breakfast, peaches for lunch, or applesauce for dinner until they’re all used up.
I’m not complaining– there’s nothing like the taste of fresh, ripe fruit that you pick yourself right from the bush or tree. And we couldn’t live in a better place for pick-your-own; farms all over the area offer all sorts of fruity options.
Hill Top Berry Farm in Nelson County just started harvesting blackberries, and the crop will last almost all summer long. The great thing about picking berries on this farm is that the bushes are so easy to get to. They grow on trellises, and the paths between them are trimmed and mulched so you can fill your basket or pail (containers are available at the farm, too) with nary a scratch.
Pickers who pass through Crozet on their way back from Nelson can mix their berries with peaches— yum— with a stop at Chiles Orchard. You can pick-your-own or purchase them pre-picked at their produce stand at the side of Jarman’s Gap Road. The stand also sells cooking apples, nectarines, summer vegetables from near-by farms, and the best frozen peach yogurt you’ve ever tasted.
For fruit from the tree that has been treated with kindness instead of a lot of chemicals, call Tina Riley. Her orchard, also in Crozet, uses integrated pest management, which means she uses a minimal amount of pesticide sprays to keep the bugs at bay. Riley offers pick-your-own by appointment only and has seven varieties of peaches now ripe for the picking. Apples will also be available starting in August.
Come September, apples will also be ready to pick at the Carter Mountain Orchard, which also happens to be owned by the Chiles family. In addition to the pick-your-own option, the farm store on the ridge offers an ever-changing variety of pre-picked fruit, seasonal vegetables, gifts, and apple cider donuts to die for.
This is one of those must-do summer activities, especially for little pickers who inevitably end up with more on and in them than in the basket. But that’s just the fun of it. And— trust me on this one— you won’t find fruit this good in any grocery store. 

Hill Top Berry Farm is on Rt. 612 off Rt. 151 in Nelson. Open Wednesday-Saturday 9am-6pm, Sunday 10am-6pm. 361-1266. Chiles Orchard is on Jarman’s Gap Road. Open 9am-6pm, Sundays noon-6pm. 823-1583. Tina Riley’s Orchard is on Mint Springs Park Road next to the park. 823-1623. Carter Mountain Orchard is open 9am-6pm daily. Off Rt. 53. 977-1833.

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