What does summer mean to you? For many of us, our connection to the earth and its rhythms is signaled by the edible and visual highlights of the shifting seasons. I always feel a little more grounded when I’ve eaten some spring peas, sampled a sun-ripened berry or created a seasonal bouquet from what’s happening in the yard. 

Summer was slow off the blocks due to COVID-19 restrictions, but there’s still plenty to savor at Washington state farms offering seasonal berries, flowers and some creative pivots maximizing their wide, open spaces. Here are some outdoor outings within about an hour’s drive of Seattle — great for some fresh air, perspective and that feeling of summer. Just remember to practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently. Also, if you have a fever or are experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus, stay home!

Please note that farms often close fields unexpectedly due to weather or to let fruit ripen. Before hitting the road, check farms’ Facebook pages or call to find out the latest hours and information. 

Berry picking

At Bybee Farms (bybeenimsfarms.com/) in North Bend, you can pick fresh blueberries with Mount Si as your backdrop. Thanks to the cool spring, the farm just opened July 22, but farm manager Kelli Bybee is seeing heightened interest this season. “I got a lot of phone calls and emails,” Bybee said.

Bybee expects harvests of six blueberry varieties — most planted in 1946 by her grandfather — to continue through mid-September. With eight of the 50 acres planted, there’s plenty of room for distancing; masks are required at check-in and checkout. The fruit is not certified organic but is grown without pesticides or herbicides.

This sign at an intersection in North Bend directs drivers to Bybee Farms, where Seattleites can get a socially distanced dose of summer (plus fresh berries, of course). (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
This sign at an intersection in North Bend directs drivers to Bybee Farms, where Seattleites can get a socially distanced dose of summer (plus fresh berries, of course). (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
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In Arlington, Bryant Blueberry Farm (bryantblueberries.com/) offers u-pick fields of sustainably-grown blueberries (20 varieties), thornless blackberries, tayberries, fall raspberries, boysenberries, currants, and aronia. Masks are required at check-in/out. Lana Flint, who co-owns the farm with her husband Jamie, says aronia is her sleeper favorite – a less-known berry packed with more antioxidants than the much-hyped blueberry.  Like currants, aronia carries a bitter tang, so she loves to sneak them into blueberry smoothies.

A favorite family destination, Bryant has a free open-air play area including a bouncy “pillow” for kids and adorable goats, sheep, and chickens to meet. Access is limited to five children at a time, with sanitation between uses, and there are handwashing stations throughout.

“We see the same families return year after year; in fact, their kids are bringing their kids now,” Flint said. But this year, they are seeing more new visitors. “People like to do stuff outside cause everyone’s been locked in. Right now I have a mom’s group meeting here now on blankets six feet apart,” she said. 

Four-year-old Jessie Yuan sits in a cart at Bybee Farms in North Bend with the blueberries her mother Fiona picked, July 22, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Four-year-old Jessie Yuan sits in a cart at Bybee Farms in North Bend with the blueberries her mother Fiona picked, July 22, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Carnation’s Remlinger Farms (remlingerfarms.com/), another family-friendly berry farm, has temporarily closed its amusement park, but has created a new, 2020-appropriate activity: evening fire pit cookout rentals. 

With hot dogs, s’mores and games provided, it’s a miniature camping experience without the roots in your back. Like Marymoor Park converting parking lots into drive-in movie venues, Remlinger is leveraging its biggest pandemic asset: outdoor space. 

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The cookouts are a hit. “It’s been going on for a month,” manager Nathan Sherfey said, “and we already have repeat customers.”  The six fire pit sites are 50-100 feet from each other, and limited in the number of people allowed. There is a play area with limited access and regular sanitizing. Staff supervise the cookouts. 

Raspberries — also sustainably grown — are ready for picking, and should be into August, said Cheryl Paquette, general manager. Pumpkins follow in late September. The farm hopes to open the fun park at some point. There is a market for fresh and fresh-frozen produce, and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating with tables 10 feet apart. Each group is given its own lane to pick, and masks are required at the market, indoor restaurant and checkout areas. 

The jury is still out on the reaction from 8-month-old Teagan Geel from North Bend after she tastes her first-ever blueberry from mom Jenni at Bybee Farms, July 22, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
The jury is still out on the reaction from 8-month-old Teagan Geel from North Bend after she tastes her first-ever blueberry from mom Jenni at Bybee Farms, July 22, 2020. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

A bit farther from Seattle, Graysmarsh Berry Farm in Sequim (graysmarsh.com) offers u-pick lavender in addition to a host of berries: raspberries, loganberries, blackberries and boysenberries. The farm will supply boxes. Masks are required at the farm stand, hand-washing is required before picking and eating from the field is not allowed. 

Flowers

For a dose of flower therapy, tour the acres of display gardens at Paul and Gwen Sayers’ Pine Creek Nursery and Farms (pinecreeknursery.com) in Monroe. The single-acre cutting garden filled with dahlias, zinnia, herbs and hops fuels Gwen’s floral creations sold under the name Scattered Seeds. The nursery gardens are high, mountain landscape-scale displays with paths weaving through waterfalls and a pond hosting over 100 koi. 

Roozengaarde (tulips.com) in Mount Vernon, known for its spring tulip displays, is worth a detour to see over 1,000 dahlias blooming. The indoor home and garden gift shop is open seven days a week, and occupancy is limited to two groups at a time, with masks required. Some tulip bulbs are available for sale now — but serious bulb sales begin in September, along with bulb-growing classes, Brent Roozen said.  

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Or, you can choose artfully created seasonal bouquets for housebound neighbors and friends while supporting two local businesses at Dahlia Barn nursery (dahliabarn.com) in North Bend. Dahlia Barn teamed up with the Pike Place Hmong flower vendors to create a self-serve flower stand open on the weekends, payable via cash, check or Venmo. In September, it will open the gardens for weekend tours and sales for the annual Flower Festival.

If you’d rather pick your own, Cottage Garden Heirloom Blueberries (cgblueberries.blue/) in Duvall rounds out its offerings with sunflowers ranging from lemon to gold to rusty orange for 50 cents per stem in early August. Changes for 2020 include: pets are not allowed, boxes are provided. Masks required at check-in and checkout. “In midsummer, you can walk through the front field and try 10 different flavors” from their 70-year-old plants, said Pam Johnson, who owns the farm with her husband Tim.

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Blueberries ready to be picked at Bybee Farms in North Bend, July 22, 2020.  The farm is one of the many places near Greater Seattle where you can drive less than an hour and go pick berries this summer. 
(Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Blueberries ready to be picked at Bybee Farms in North Bend, July 22, 2020. The farm is one of the many places near Greater Seattle where you can drive less than an hour and go pick berries this summer. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Tips for using all the blueberries you just picked

From Kelli Bybee of Bybee Farms, North Bend

  • Handle as little as possible — the glaucous iridescent coating, somewhat protective of the berry, rubs off easily and will encourage the fruit to become overripe. 
  • Want fuss-free blueberry pancakes? Bybee sprays avocado oil before each cake pour to prevent the fruit sticking to the pan or burning.
  • Freeze what you can’t use: Save all the fresh-picked flavor and nutrition for winter smoothies and pancakes. Here’s how: Don’t wash the fruit; you want them to be as dry as possible. Remove stems and spread on a cookie sheet without touching each other. Bag up in a freezer-friendly bag or container.


What to do with those berries? Here are some handy recipes

Bryant Blueberry Crunch

Makes: 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white or raw sugar
  • 2 pints Bryant blueberries 
  • 4 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Crunch Ingredients 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter 

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Get ready an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the 4 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 cup of sugar.
  4. Gently stir in the blueberries and then the lemon juice, vanilla and water.
  5. Spread evenly into the baking pan.
  6. In separate bowl, make the crunch. Combine 1 cup of flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Cut butter into chunks over mixture. Blend the crunch mixture with a fork until it resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle crunch over the berry mixture in the pan and spread evenly.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream. 

Remlinger Raspberry Freezer Jam Recipe

Ingredients:

  • One 5/8-ounce Instant Freezer Jam Pectin
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 4 cups crushed fresh raspberries

Steps:

  1. Pour pectin and sugar into a large bowl. Stir pectin and sugar until well combined.
  2. Crush fresh raspberries in a separate bowl; measure the raspberries to be sure it is 4 cups of raspberries.  
  3. Pour crushed raspberries into the bowl with the pectin and sugar.
  4. Stir and continue stirring for 3 minutes.  
  5. Pour the jam into the desired size of canning jar. Let stand on the counter for 30 minutes. Put lid and ring on the jar. Put into either the refrigerator or freezer.

Jam holds in the freezer for up to 1 year. Jam holds in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 weeks.