Farm Calls: Which fruit crops are best suited for Pick-Your-Own?

Last week Meredith Melendez, Mercer County Ag Agent, fielded this question from a grower who currently runs an organic CSA and is considering adding PYO (pick-your-own) fruit to the farm’s portfolio.

Raspberries are a good option for PYO

Raspberries are a good option for PYO

Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agents, including the Agritourism Team, weigh in with specific answers and solid advice.

They offer small-fruit crop suggestions, discuss the special problems related to organic cultivation of these crops, and comment on how agritourism activities can add to the farm’s bottom-line.

Best Bets: Small-Fruit PYO

Options to consider are strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry. Raspberry gets the highest vote from Wes Kline because they have no thorns and the plants are not as aggressive as others.

“Raspberries are a good option for high tunnels, but with blackberries you need to deal with thorns. Variety selection is important. Joan J has become a standard variety. Nantahala is a new variety which we planted this year. Do not plant black raspberries because they have a very short season. If trying blackberry, I would go with Prime-Ark 45 or the new one, Freedom.”

Alternative crops attract customers, says Jack Rabin. It’s another option worth exploring.

“A new web resource is Uncommon Fruit from Carandale Farm, hosted by the University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Ag Systems. They collected and tested many minor varieties of Ribes, Prunus and other exotic fruits, and provide information on the quality and labeling of plants sourced from nurseries. Quality nurseries can be an excellent source of information.

NESARE grants database searches can yield robust sources of information on commercially producing alternative fruits from farmer and researcher experiences. For example, NJ small farmer Maury Sheets of Woodland Produce of Cumberland County recently reported on his experiences raising fig trees in high tunnels in the Northeast. Rutgers Cooperative Extension maintains some information on Asian pears.”

Special Challenges for Organic Operations

Fruit production is for the detail oriented grower. As Michelle Casella and Peter Nitzsche point out, insect (spotted winged drosophila), disease (fungus), and weed pests bring special challenges for organic farms. Michelle also stresses the fertility needs of small fruit such as strawberry,

“Fertility is a big deal and if using drip and plastic mulch, you would need to inject fertilizers; but there are good liquid organic products. I have some organic growers using Plant Food Co., Helena, or other vendors of OMRI products for liquid fertigation.”

ATTRA and Cornell Cooperative Extension provide a number of fact sheets on organic fruit production that address these challenges.

PYO/CSA Agritourism Resources

Rick VanVranken comments that no matter which fruit a grower chooses, PYO – like a CSA – is a marketing method that focuses on the customer experience.

“The key to a successful PYO operation these days is to promote the experience. Either grow using a standard production system and promote the experience of working on a farm like real farmers, or modify the production system to make it convenient for inexperienced consumers to harvest more easily.”

Find detailed information about Agritourism operations on the Rutgers Agritourism Team webpages,
Agritourism in New Jersey.