You know the saying: fresh is absolutely the best. In fact, as summer creeps on, it's almost unbeatable. Whether you just want to head an hour out of Melbourne or are ready to road trip, there are working farms everywhere welcoming visitors to come and pick their own.
All you really need is a hat, good shoes, sunscreen and a few hours of your time. Most pick-your-own operations offer buckets for collecting. You simply pay an entry fee, fill your container (sometimes your face – some venues have no limit to how much fruit you can eat in the orchard) then pay for the fruit you take home. This summer is a little different, thanks to Covid-19. Many farms require bookings, so check their websites or call them before you leave for availability and further details.
With two locations, Blue Hills Berries & Cherries in Silvan is a top pick (pun intended). At its berry farm, strawberries and blueberries are good to go, with raspberries ready around mid-February. It has a nearby cherry farm, but you'll have to wait till next summer before you can fill your bucket there. upickberries.com.au
If stone fruit is top of your pick list, family-run Paynes Orchards has you covered. Apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums are ripe on the trees, and at $8 a kilogram you best work out how many jars of jam you're going to make before you go. Berries are available until about March and apples start in February. paynesorchards.com.au
The sweet cherries are done for the year at Ripe 'N' Ready Cherry Farm at Red Hill, but you can still head there to pluck some juicy plums from the trees. In nearby Main Ridge, Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm is the one of the best-known pick-your-own venues. You can stroll the fields and fill your punnets until April. ripenreadycherryfarm.com
Prime berry season was towards the beginning of January, but check out Sunny Creek Organic's website to see what's still on the tree. It's been an excellent season for raspberries – the farm has red, purple, yellow and black varieties – boysenberries, blackberries and red currants. sunnycreekorganic.com
The Lomas family has been farming this patch in Wallington for four generations. Lomas Orchards opens up during the summer months for folks to pick their own strawberries. But while you're there, you can also stock up on stone fruit, heritage apples and pears, quinces (from March), a range of vegetables, and homemade preserves. Both strawberries and blueberries are available to pick – weekends only – at Tuckerberry Hill in Drysdale. The onsite produce stores also sells loads of fruit and veg, eggs, olive oil, bread, preserves and condiments, all grown and made locally. facebook.com/lomasorchards
Until the end of January, High Grove Berry Farm in Stanley has all sorts of juicy goodness – raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries, blackberries – ready to pick. Bring your own containers to fill. Nearby at Black Barn Farm, the heritage apple season usually begins in mid-February and runs through to June.
It's one of the biggest pick-your-own facilities in the state, and a great place to stop if you're in the Victoria's north. The Big Strawberry at Koonoomoo, about nine kilometres from Cobram, has ripe fruit until the end of January then again from about April (check before visiting). There's also a cafe, produce sales, wine tastings, a history room and indoor playground. thebigstrawberry.com.au
Out of Season
Stick these dates in your diary for fresh fruit and more all year round.
From the end of March, just when the Dandenong Ranges reveal autumn colours, visit Ruefluer Chestnuts in Olinda to gather the prickly burrs that encase these delicious nuts. You'll need a good pair of gloves to protect your hands. chestnutfarmvic.com
At Woori Yallock in the Yarra Valley, Rayner's Orchard has you-pick fruit available throughout the year. There are about 450 different varieties on the farm, with no less than eight available to harvest at any time. Stone fruit is available now through till April, but you can also pick citrus and tamarillos (May–November), kiwi fruit (May–September), and persimmons, pomegranates, figs and guavas (April to June).
They say once you've had a freshly brined olive you'll never go back to the supermarket variety. If you want to test the theory, Bass Coast Farm at Woolamai offers olive picking – recent rains mean this year should offer a bumper crop – from late April through May. You get to pick kilos of organic olives and are sent off on your way with recipes for preserving them. facebook.com/basscoastfarm