Special thanks to our local cherry expert and guest poster today, Eddie Marcel. Read on to learn where to go, what to bring, and other important information about Brentwood's cherry farms.
Updated 6/3: This is the last reliable weekend for cherry picking. Many of the farms are picked over. Here's what's open.
I love cherry picking. As a young boy, I had fond memories of visiting orchards and laughing with my brothers and sisters. It was always an enjoyable adventure. My experiences as a child fueled my passion as an adult to give back to my community in a unique way. As a consumer and local agriculture advocate, I started a Facebook page dedicated to cherry picking in Brentwood.
Exclusively for readers of 510 Families, I’ve put together a few tips for the most frequently asked questions about Cherry Picking in Brentwood.
When can we pick cherries in California?
Brentwood Cherry Season typically opens in early May and extends through mid-June. Each season will bring slight deviations based on the weather and crop size. We are just past Opening Weekend and heading into peak season, so now is the perfect time to visit. Orchards open between 8am and 9am and will usually close between 3pm and 5pm, or until ripe fruit is picked over. For most families, especially those with young children, it’s ideal to go early to avoid crowds and the afternoon heat.
Farms are generally closed on the weekdays, saving the ripe fruit for weekend visitors. It's not impossible that a few might be open on a weekday, but it's not the general rhythm of their U-Pick business, so be sure to call ahead.
How do I get to the cherry picking farms?
Brentwood is located about an hour East of Berkeley. Most of you will travel Highway 24 to Highway 680 to Highway 4, while those further South may travel Highway 580 to Vasco Road. Both routes will intersect at Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood. This is one of the main arteries through the growing region. Traveling East on Marsh Creek Road will bring you to Walnut Blvd. If you head Northbound, you’ll enter the heart of Brentwood’s U-Pick orchards.
There are 23 U-Pick orchards throughout Brentwood. If you’re looking for a specific orchard, visit Harvest Time in Brentwood. Download their Harvest Time Farm Trails map and mobile app (available for iOS and Android devices).
Which farms are open or closed?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions on our Facebook page. For the start of the 2016 season, several farms opened on May 4 and 5 (Bloomfield Cherries, Chavez U-Pick Cherries, Maggiore Ranch Cherries, Mike’s U-Pick, and Pease Ranch) with additional farms opened on Mother’s Day Weekend (Nunn Better, Papini Farms, RC U-Pick). With the warmer weather returning this week, the majority of remaining orchards are expected to open within the next 10-15 days. Every Friday, we post an updated list of who is expected to be open for that specific weekend on our Facebook page.
Note: For 2016, Freitas Cherry Ranch is closed due to a small crop and will reopen in 2017.
What to bring on your cherry-picking adventure:
Cash. Not only for cherries, but enough for the other delicious fruits you’ll stumble across – apricots, peaches, etc. Many of the farms are cash-only.
Hat. The Bay Area’s summer marine layer doesn’t push into Brentwood, so you can expect sunny weather the majority of the time. Sunscreen is also a good idea.
Ice Chest. If you plan to extend your stay in Brentwood or the surrounding area, it’s a good idea to place your fruit in a chilled environment. On an average 85 degree day, car temperatures can exceed 130 degrees after an hour.
Closed-toe shoes. Leave the sandals at home and bring a pair of old sneakers. This is especially important for small children. They’ll be walking in dirt with potential hidden dangers (rocks, pits, etc).
Water. While Brentwood is filled with shopping and restaurant options, there are limited opportunities to find water in the immediate growing region. Afternoon temperatures can often exceed 95 degrees in late May and you’ll want your family hydrated and refreshed to enjoy the experience of picking fruit together.
How do I tell which cherries are ripe?
For the majority of cherries in Brentwood, you’ll be looking for a deep red color. Rainier cherries, a popular late variety usually available around Memorial Day Weekend, will be yellow with blush tones. For any cherry, you’ll want to pick them when they’re firm but just tender enough to easily bite. Cherries will not continue to ripen once picked, so be careful not to fill your bucket with unripe fruit. If you’re not sure, you are always welcome to sample a cherry or two.
Keep stems on cherries. Once a stem is removed, the shelf life of a cherry will drastically diminish. By keeping your cherries cool with the stem attached, you can expect your cherries to remain at their peak freshness for 3-5 days.
Critical, must-read, very important tip for cherry pickers:
Call ahead. Although growers strive to update their websites, and we strive to update our Facebook page with Friday posts and additional updates throughout the week, availability is always subject to change. Call ahead.
If you have a favorite farm, please be sure to call ahead before loading everyone into the car. Should we say it one more time? Call ahead.
Watch for traffic. Thousands of families will visit Brentwood this spring to pick cherries. This means a lot of traffic on mainly one lane country roads. Always keep an eye out for drivers who may be in a rush.
For additional information on Cherry Picking in Brentwood, please visit www.facebook.com/brentwoodcherries.