Known as the Sunshine State, Florida is prime for perfect farming. A peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Straits of Florida, here you’ll find long stretches of gorgeous beaches, exotic flora and fauna, and tropical temperatures (meaning humid, so don’t bother fixing your hair). From blueberries and tangerines to sweet corn and oranges, the picking varies, but the main picking here? Citrus. Citrus season typically runs November through April, when the rest of the South has closed up shop after the summer. Just watch out for gators when you are doing your picking.
1. The Showcase of Citrus
More than 70 varieties of citrus grow at this 2,500-acre, family-run estate, located right outside of the Happiest Place on Earth (Disney World, of course). Start at the Old Time Farm Store & Market, where you can sample jams, honey and sauce, and then head out to the grove, where the picking begins. Depending on the time of year, you can pick anything from limes and grapefruit to tangerines and oranges. If picking isn’t enough to fill your day (which it easily could be), there’s tons more to do. Enjoy a picnic, go fishing, take an eco-safari tour on a 4x4, feed the farm animals and play on the playground.
Cost: Admission is free and produce prices vary depending on fruit
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., 365 days a year, unless there’s a hurricane
Information: (352) 394-4377; www.showcaseofcitrus.com
2. Ridge Island Groves
Where: Haines City and Clermont (2 locations)
Open since 1992, this family-operated place is all about citrus picking. Choose from tangerines, Ruby Red grapefruits, Navel oranges, Pineapple oranges, Honeybell tangelos and other citrus fruits. You can buy fresh squeezed juice, honey and jams, as well. And, if you can’t make it there to pick your own, they ship (even to Canada).
Cost: Grove tours cost $8 for anyone over the age of 4. Every paying customer receives a 3 lb. bag for picking.
Hours: Vary. It opens in September, depending on the weather and season.
Information: (863) 422-0333; www.ridgeislandgroves.com
3. Dooley Groves
Founded in the 1960s by Julius F. (Dooley) and Edith Houghtaling, this grove has always been a family business. Go to pick your own Honeybells, starting in December through the end of January. The rest of the year, call to visit the store to shop or order online and have fresh citrus shipped to your door.
Cost: Varies per pound
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday – Saturday; 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday. Season runs November through April.
Information: (813) 645-3256 or 1-800-522-6411; www.dooleygroves.com
4. U-Pick Citrus
Where: Ft. Myers
Follow the dirt road decorated by funny and funky signs and you’ve arrived at this family grove, owned and operated for over 30 years by Bob and Judy Johnson. Go and fill your picking bucket with whatever you choose. Making this place even more inviting: the Johnsons donate 1/3 of their proceeds to charity, run the business on the honor system (if they aren’t there, leave your money and pick on your own), and never use pesticides.
Cost: $10 per 5-gallon bucket (provided)
Hours: December through April. 10 a.m. -4 p.m., Wednesday – Saturday; closed Sundays, Mondays & Tuesdays.
Information: (239) 657-4996
5. Seminole Springs Herb Farm
Located down the road from herb expert and author Traci Anderson’s home is this greenhouse and farm filled with herbs and roses. Wearing the badge of an official organic farm (as accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), go here for something different than the citrus known throughout Florida. Here, buy herbs and plants, ready to take home and plant in your own yard.
Cost: price varies depending on plant
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday -Saturday
Information: (352) 357-2643; rosesandherbs.com
This is one of five states featured in our series about some of the best you-pick farms in the South. Click on a state below to read about other great Southern pick-your-own farms:
Do you have a favorite pick-your-own farm that isn't on our list? Tell us about it in the comments below. Citrus photos courtesy of The Showcase of Citrus.