How you can slash your grocery bills – by grabbing your own fruit

Rich pickings! How you can slash your grocery bills – by grabbing your own fruit from a farm

  •  Prices are often over a third cheaper than supermarkets and make a fun day out
  •  Now is the time for picking strawberries, which are best from May to September
  • PickYourOwnFarms.org.uk lists places where you can harvest a bargain haul
  • Fruit and veg can be frozen, stewed into jams or chutneys and used later  

More and more families are turning to pick-your-own fruit and veg farms to keep their grocery bills down as food costs soar.

Prices are often over a third cheaper than supermarkets – and include a fun family day out. So last week, the Walne household decided to roll up our sleeves and head for the fields to discover if picking our own produce really could save us money.

FIND A FARM TO FORAGE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE FRUIT 

To find a nearby farm, I go to the website PickYourOwnFarms.org.uk, which lists hundreds of places where you can harvest a bargain. Farms are not just in rural areas – there are many on the outskirts of towns as well.

The closest to my Hertfordshire home is Cammas Hall Farm, just ten miles away. I wouldn’t want to drive much further as any money I saved on picking fruit would be eroded by additional petrol costs.

Turning into its field car park, childhood memories flood back of gorging myself on fruit as my parents industriously filled baskets. Now I am bringing my own grown-up children to help with the picking. The farm also has a play area, countryside walks, maze, shop and a cafe.

Pick-your-own fruit and veg farms prices are often over a third cheaper than supermarkets Pictured: Toby Walne visits Cammas Hall Farm to pick fruit

The experience is considerably more fun than our usual shopping trips. It quickly turns into a competition to see who is best at filling up a punnet of strawberries. My eagle-eyed children Sophia, 22, and Harrison, 20, prove far more adept at finding the ripest fruit – as well as being much faster than me.

We soon learn that the straw- berries are at their best only when they are fully red – even those with just a slightly green tip are not ready and lack the sweetness of the ripest fruit.

Having heard of disapproving tales of families who have turned up with their own tubs of cream for a free meal, we are keen to prove we are not greedy – though occasionally sampling the wares is a tasty perk of the job.

The plants are 4ft off the ground, so it is not the back-breaking work I had feared. As it’s a sunny day, I am happy to relax and pick slowly – and it certainly beats plodding down the aisles of a supermarket. But the experience might not be such fun in the cold or rain.

WEIGHING UP OUR SWEET SAVINGS 

We make the biggest savings on perfectly ripe raspberries.

It takes us about five minutes to pick a 1.04kg harvest costing £9.30. In the supermarket this same crop could cost over two-thirds more at around £15.60.

We freeze some of the raspberries for a delicious reminder of our summer day trip in the colder winter months ahead. Berry prices are even higher in the winter, so by freezing some now, we’ll keep costs down later.

The strawberries prove less of a saving, although they are far more delicious than most bought at the supermarket. They cost us £5.95 a kilo at Cammas Hall Farm, which is close to the price at most supermarkets. However, they are perhaps more comparable to fancier supermarket options, which can cost about £10 a kilo. Waitrose No 1 Speciality British Strawberries, for example, cost £9.59 a kilo.

We quickly get carried away by the fun of it all – as well as the competitive spirit – and fill three overflowing punnets.

However, that turns out to be where we make the biggest saving. To justify the bumper crop back at home, we turn 1kg of the strawberries into four jars of jam – turning almost £6 of strawberries into £12 worth of delicious spread.

We freeze some strawberries as well for Sophia to make into smoothies. However, we don’t freeze any to eat whole, as they can go mushy when defrosted.

We turn 1kg of the strawberries into four jars of jam – turning almost £6 of strawberries into £12 worth of delicious spread.

Overall, we save about £12 in comparison to supermarket prices. Luckily we tend to eat a lot of fruit at home, and would otherwise have bought several punnets from the supermarket.

If we ate less fruit, the savings would not have been much to write home about. However, it also proved a nice family day out with no additional spending. Farm manager Helen Holloway says: ‘We try to ensure the experience is more fun – as well as better value – than shopping in a supermarket.

‘It can also be educational. Many children who visit discover for the first time where fruit really comes from – and that it doesn’t have to be packaged in plastic and flown halfway around the world.’

TIPS FOR TAKING HOME THE CREAM OF THE CROP 

Bring your own containers so that you don’t have to buy them when you get there. Old punnets and ice cream containers can be good options.

Ms Holloway suggests that we start picking at the far end of the field where the fruit should be more plentiful, because most visitors prefer to stay near the field entrance.

‘Delve deep into the foliage,’ she adds. ‘Look up from underneath to find the low-hanging fruit that is ripe for picking.’

Many pick-your-own farms now require you to book a time slot in advance. They introduced the system during the pandemic and have found it works well, avoiding crowding and reducing the risk of visitors having to queue.

Most have websites that allow you to see what is growing – and the best times to pick.

Right now is the ideal time for harvesting strawberries, which are at their best between May and September

You could also phone ahead to see what is ready that day. When it comes to vegetables, you can pick asparagus in April and May, but might have to wait until August to September for runner beans, sweetcorn and courgettes.

Then in October – in perfect time for Halloween – the pumpkins are ready.

Right now it’s the ideal time for harvesting strawberries, which are at their best between May and September, depending on when the crops are planted and the prevailing weather.

Other popular fruits ready between June and September are blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.

Apples and plums are usually ready from August to October.

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