Picking Calendar: Freshness at Hand
Text by Allison Shi
Freshness at Hand
“My friends and I wanted to pick strawberries in July last year, but when we called a farm where we could pick them; they told us we were too late. I don’t want to miss my chance this year,” said Jiang Xin, who plans to pick strawberries at a fruit farm in Xingshou Town, Changping District, with her friends soon.
For Jiang and many other Beijing residents, fruit-picking is a favourite seasonal pastime, a recreational activity that the whole family can enjoy, whether Chinese or foreign. Farms that allow fruit-picking ring Beijing, with their numbers increasing in recent years. The season for self-picking fruit and vegetables is remarkably long: strawberries can be picked in late winter or early spring, apricots and cherries in late spring, peaches, grapes and watermelons in summer and pears and chestnuts in the autumn. So the question is: when do you go? BTM has created a pick-your-own calendar to help you decide.
Strawberry Picking: An Early Taste of Spring
Beijing’s spring is short yet beloved. One juicy bite of a strawberry, maybe sweet, maybe sour, but surly fresh, would remind you of the advent of spring. Planted in green houses mostly, strawberries are available from December to July. But with jasmine blossoming and its warm breezes and sunshine, spring seems to be the best time to get an early start on the picking season.
The Best Picking Places
“We have the best strawberries to pick,” a villager in Xingshou Town in Changping District told BTM.
Changping District lies at 40 degrees north latitude and is considered one of the best areas for growing strawberries. Known as “the backyard of Beijing,” this district is home to historical sites such as the Ming Tombs, Juyongguan Great Wall, natural spa resorts and national forest parks. In mountainous areas, sunny sides of mountains at higher elevations provide water and favourable conditions for strawberry cultivation.
The people of Xingshou Town, in northeastern Changping District, were among the first to engage in strawberry cultivation in the capital. The area is now host to many self-pick farms and is known as the best place for strawberries in Beijing.
“When you arrive in Xingshou Town, you won’t have to look for the farms yourself. There are so many farms that their greeters will welcome you at the roadside,” a manager at the Beijing Changping National Agricultural Science Park said. He said Xingshou Town is a must-visit town. “You can pick strawberries grown inside green houses from December to May in Beijing.” She said the best strawberries are mostly planted in green houses to ensure the best conditions for their growth. She said from January to May pickers can get top-quality strawberries.
Some Things You May not Know about Strawberries
Strawberries were originally called “strewnberries” because the fruit is “strewn” among the leaves of the plant. Cultivation of strawberries began in Europe in the 1300’s.
About 20 strawberries can provide the recommended daily intake of vitamin C. Some regard them as an excellent antioxidant.
Cindy Zhuo is an employer of a State-owned company. She works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Born in urban Beijing, she doesn’t even know the difference between spring onions and large Chinese green onions.
“I like strawberries, but I never knew what a strawberry plant looked like. When tasting strawberries the fresher the better. But what we can get at market is transported from suburbs or other cities. Why not try the first-hand freshness by yourself?” Cindy said .
“Having lived in the city for a long time, I sometimes need a change of pace; so I decided to spend a day in Changping District, hanging out with friends around the Ming Tombs Reservoir area and picking some fruit.”
On one trip, Zhuo and her friends "We departed Huilongguan at about 9 a.m. and headed north to the Ming Tombs Reservoir, arriving at about 10 a.m. “In the morning, my friends and I rode horses, went fishing and took motorboat ride on the reservoir.” At noon, after a “busy” morning, Zhuo and her friends headed eastward. “On the road, we saw several signs advertising places to eat, but we also noticed the orchards lining the road."
After lunch, at about 2 p.m., the group continued east in the direction of Xingshou Town. “On the road to Xingshou, there were many orchards. We picked one to visit at random. I was surprised to see a complete (strawberry) plant for the first time: the leaves were bright green and the fruit red; the triangular red fruit hid under the cover of green leaves, but their sweet smell and bright colour gave them away.
“It was so different from sitting in my cube at work!” Zhuo said her friends were excited when beginning to pick.
To pick a strawberry, everyone has to bend or squat to reach the low plants. Scissors are useful because they help avoid bruising the fruit.
“There is no rule about the standards of good strawberries. At least I was quite careless about that. I just picked the ones that seemed nice and put them into a bamboo-woven basket. Later, I discovered that the deep red and smaller-sized strawberries tasted sweeter.”
By 4:30 p.m. the group was feasting on their strawberries in the orchard: visitors are allowed to do this, but should wash the fruit first. After a feast in the field, Zhuo went to the weigh station in the orchard.
“You can take what you’ve picked back home. Though the price there is two or three times higher than that at a downtown supermarket, I still think it is meaningful.” Zhuo suggested pickers should bring boxes or lager cases to carry their strawberries to protect them from bruising on the way home.
By 8 p.m., Zhuo was back in her living room, watching TV and sharing her fresh pickings with her family.
Strawberry Picking Orchards in Beijing
Tianyi Strawberry Ecology
This orchard was among the first established in Xingshou Town. There are 180 greenhouses dedicated to strawberries in the orchard. In addition to strawberry picking, people can buy strawberries wrapped in gift boxes and potted strawberry plants. As one of the major fruit picking farm in Xingshou Town, Tianyi Strawberry Ecology offers coupons via its Web site, allowing 5 percent to 15 percent discounts if you print them before you go.
Tel: +86 10 6172 1718
Address: Tianyi Strawberry Ecology, Xingshou Town, Changping District
Dingding Pick-Your-Own Farm
One of the most famous strawberry varieties at the Dingding Pick-Your-Own Farm is the “Milk Strawberry.” Diluted milk is sprayed on strawberry plants during their growing season; so the strawberries “drink” milk while growing up. The milk scent adds fragrance to the smell of strawberries. On this farm, you can rent a patch in a field to plant your own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Address: Dingding Pick-Your-Own Farm, Xinzhuang Village, Xingshou Town, Changping District
Tianxing Agronomic Park
This orchard has many strawberry varieties, such as Akihime, Sweet Charlie and Benihoppe. It offers two kinds of strawberry potted plants: one to cultivate the plant yourself and one with mature strawberries on the plant.
Address: Tianxing Agronomic Park, Xingshou Town, Changping District
Nearly every month in Beijing, you can find different pick-your-own farms featuring various fruit. To avoid missing the best picking time for your favourite fruit, here are some reminders.
May and June are the best months for cherries in Beijing. Regarded as the “diamond” of all fruit, cherries are rich in iron content (100 grams of cherries contain 5.9 milligrams of iron) as well as antioxidants. Many orchards feature cherry picking in suburban Beijing. In one of the orchards called Longwan Cherry Valley, the whole valley is coated in purplish red when cherries mature; their scent is unforgettable pleasure.
Longwan Cherry Valley:
Address: Longwan Cherry Valley, Xinzhuang Village, Longwan Town, Shunyi District
Tel: +86 10 6046 1392
Miaofeng Mountain Cherry Park
This park is located in Yingtaogou Village—“yingtao” is homophonous to “cherry” in Chinese—an ancient village in Mentougou District that, it is said, has planted cherries for 300 years.
Address: Miaofeng Mountain Cherry Park, Miaofengshan Town, Mentougou District
Tel: +86 10 6188 3114
A cool, juicy, sweet peach relieve you of some of the may stresses brought on by Beijing’s summer heat. Pinggu District is famous for large, high-quality peaches of several varieties, such as flat peaches, smooth-skinned peaches, yellow peaches and white peaches, promoting the local government to host the annual Peach Blossom Festival from later April to early May. In 2009, the Pinggu District Government prepared 80,000 tons of peaches for tourists to pick. This year, there may be even more.
Guajiayu Organic Peach Park
Tel: +86 10 6194 7321
Address: Guajiayu Village, Dahushan Town,
Liujiadian Flat Peach Orchard
Liujiadian Town, known as the number one flat-peach village in China, has the biggest flat-peach farm in Beijing. The flat peach, pantao in Chinese symbolizes longevity and immortality in the Chinese culture. In one of the Four Great Classic Chinese Novels, the Pilgrimage to the West, the key character, the Monkey King, steals some flat peaches grown in the Heavenly Orchard, which are resvered for birthday party of the Heavenly Queen. Learn more about flat peaches at the flat-peach farm in Liujiadian Town.
Liudian Xishan Flat Peach Picking Park
Tel: +86 10 6197 2588
Address: Liudian Xishan Flat Peach Picking Park, Liudian Village, Liujiadian Town, Pinggu District
From July to September, it seems that no one can get enough of watermelons in Beijing. The touch of the melon is soothing, and indulging in the sweet melon flesh will cool you off on a hot summer’s day. Daxing District, the best-known watermelon producer in China, hosts its Watermelon Festival every year from late May to early June. Here, you will find tons of normal watermelons, green-skinned and round-shaped; rare watermelons, yellow skinned and cubic-shaped. After a fresh and cool watermelon lunch, you can visit the Daxing Watermelon Museum.
Daxing Watermelon Museum
Address: Panggezhuang Town, Daxing District
Tel: +86 10 8928 1181
Laosong Melon Garden
Tel: +86 10 8928 2866
Address: Pang’an Lu, Panggezhuang Town, Daxing District
Sijichun Agronomic Park
Tel: +86 10 8928 9588
Address: Panggezhuang Town, Daxing District
If watermelons are too big for you pick and carry from July to September, try picking some grapes, another cooling source of refreshment. One of the most famous grape production places is the Turpan Depression in the Xingjiang Uygur Autonomous Region thousands of kilometres away. But to taste the juicy and sweet grapes you don’t have to travel that far, because in Daxing District’s Caiyu Town, also known as “Turpan in Beijing,” you can quench your thirst for juicy grapes in the summer. There are more than 4,300 grape farmers in Caiyu Town. Weather conditions in this area are similar to that found in Bordeaux, France. In this town, after picking grapes, you can enjoy some wine and visit the China Grape Museum as well.
China Grape Museum
Tel: +86 10 8027 3611
Address: Caiyu Town, Daxing District
Caiyu Grape Sightseeing and Picking Farm
Tel: +86 10 8020 9184
Address: Caiyu Town, Daxing District
Raspberries and Mulberries
High in nutrition, raspberries and mulberries are easy to pick despite their small size and delicate nature. Mulberries begin showing up in markets in March but are available for picking beginning in May in suburban Beijing. From June to September, local farms will allow you to indulge in the subtle sweetness of raspberries. Just pick the berries you want; people at the weigh stations will help you prepare them properly for the trip home.
Yulin Ancient Mulberry Farm
Address: Gaodian District, Anding Town, Daxing District
Tel: +86 10 8023 3242
Kingsberry Farm (raspberries and blueberries)
Address: Kingsberry Picking Farm Yongning Town, Yanqing County,
Tel: +86 10 6757 8536
Yongxinyuan Ecology Leisure Farm (for raspberries)
Address: Zhangzhen Town, Shunyi District
Tel: +86 10 6148 9020
There is no other place in Beijing more famous than Huairou District in cultivating Chinese chestnuts. As early as in Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), emperors chose Chinese chestnuts from Huairou District as tributes when worshipping their ancestors. In Liuduhe Village of Bohai Town in Huairou District, chestnut dinners with meat and chicken stewed with chestnuts and chestnut porridge are available to tourists. Carry some long tongs to easily pick up the spiny chestnut burrs.
Liuduhe Folk Village
Address: Liuduhe Village, Bohai Town, Huairou District
Tel:+86 10 6162 1944, 6965 9647
As the first place in China to cultivate the Fuji apple, the crisp, juicy and sweet apple variety with pink sparkled peel, Changping District hosts Apple Festival from October to November every year. In the festival, you can pick the lovely fruit by yourself and growers from Changping District will offer you even more: apple salad, apple juice, apple jam, apple pie, caramelized apples and other apple-based dishes.
Yannan Apple Plantation
Tel: +86 10 6073 1728
Address: Heying Village, Nanshao Town, Changping District,
China-Japan Friendship Orchard
Tel: +86 10 6073 1689
Address: Tianchijingqu Lu, Nanshao Town,