This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller UK.
You might think picking your own produce is only possible in the warm and berry-laden summer, but many orchards, farms and pick-your-owns stay open right up until October, meaning you can make the most of late-cropping fruits such as apples, pears and plums, and vegetables like carrots, onions and runner beans, as well as the UK’s now quite incredible range of gourds and pumpkins. Some PYOs require you to pre-book your slot, and opening times depend on the day’s weather, and indeed the season’s — crops may come early or late, or all at once, so it’s worth checking beforehand, especially on social media, as most farms post up-to-date crop news. Finally, wear sturdy shoes, as even in dry weather, watering can mean mud and puddles — and try not to gorge yourself before paying up for your pickings.
Set in pretty countryside just a few miles northeast of Oxford, Rectory Farm has its own shop and an excellent cafe, meaning you can spend a happy afternoon ambling through the fields before a restorative slice of cake. In September, look out for late sweetcorn, strawberries and raspberries (along with beautiful gladioli) while by October pumpkins and gourds will be ready — this year the team planted stripy celebration, white casperita and small orange uchiki kuri gourds. You get a discount if you bring your own reusable containers.
There are 250 varieties of apple planted at Hillfield, meaning the season starts early in the summer and finishes well into autumn. Many are rare, like the william crump or the ellison’s orange, so there are real treasures among the trees; they also grow plums, quince and medlars, a wonderful fruit that’s barely ever cultivated and looks like a cross between an apple and a rosehip. Medlars are picked hard, sour and unripe in autumn and then stored inside until they become aromatic and sweet.
After the soft fruit season ends, Cattows Farm transforms from a traditional pick-your-own into a Halloween farm, which opens on 30 September. However, unlike many pumpkin patches, Cattows does more than merely big orange carving pumpkins; there are also delicious crown prince squash, tractor squash and acorn squashes like the harlequin, plus knobbly ornamental gourds.
Canalside Farm has been going for 40 years and provided the local area with one of its first farm shops. In the summer, it’s all about strawberries and raspberries — but, if you’re lucky, there may be some Elsanta strawberries left for you in early autumn. If not, take your pick from their 15,000 squash, gourds and pumpkins (varieties including turk’s turban, cougar, corvette, secretariat) planted for the October harvest.
Come for the pick-your-own, stay for the cream teas, homemade sausages rolls and Grandma Pam’s cakes. The Cammas Hall PYO is open until 10 September for the last of the sweetcorn, strawberries and blackberries, then reopens on 1 October when pumpkins will be in season.
Look out for cooking apples, plums and sweetcorn here in early autumn, and perhaps even beetroot, spinach and chard, if you’re lucky, followed by pumpkins and gourds in October. If you can’t find what you want in the fields, you’ll probably find it, and more, in the farm’s shop, where they sell produce grown, reared or made on neighbouring farms, such as local honey or handmade pickles and chutneys.
Chug around this lovely pick-your-own on the tractor ‘train’, which runs until the farm closes at the end of September — it will deliver you to whichever field takes your fancy. The lengthy list of autumn crops on offer here includes plums, raspberries, rhubarb, sweetcorn, pumpkins, squash, runner beans, French beans, carrots, beetroot, onions, marrows and courgettes.
Fourth-generation farmer John Sinclair took on Craigies in the 1990s and transformed it from a cattle farm into a thriving fruit and vegetable business with a pick-your-own that sees over a quarter of a million visitors every year. Depending on the weather — and how many people have beaten you to it — in September, you might find the last of the strawberries, runner beans, French beans and sunflowers, with apples just coming into season and pumpkins following in October.
Maynards Farm lies in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an ideal spot for fruit growing. By late September, the orchards will be heaving with guinevere, topend and tophit plums; plus red williams and conference pears; the very end of the juicy estival apples (for eating straight away) and longer-lasting bramleys and pinova apples; as well as cobnuts and some blackberries. They recommend a pick, followed by a pint, at 14th-century pub The Bull, which sits on the border of the farm. (PYO closes late September.)
More than 80 varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown at Trevaskis Farm, a few miles inland from St Ives. By autumn, the majority of the soft fruit will have been scoffed by earlier visitors, but the orchards will have plenty of eating and cooking apples, with pumpkins to follow. The farm’s large shop is exceptional, with locally landed fish and locally reared meats on the butcher’s counter, as is the restaurant, where ingredients are measured in food yards, not miles.
Hawarden is rather more than a farm, comprising a pub, shop, bakery, deli, the Walled Garden school (where you can learn anything from cookery to photography to gardening) and campsite, as well as a pick-your-own that also supplies the pub and shop year-round. In autumn, currants, plums, pumpkins, raspberries and pears are all available — pick up a punnet and make for the fields.
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