Seasonal fruit grown in idyllic environment

While picking your own fruit fresh from a tree may seem like an activity from generations past, Rick Matt—owner of Matt Family Orchard—has found there are still many people out there who relish the opportunity. His 35-acre orchard in Tomball is picked clean year after year.

Matt said people do not just come for the fruit, but for the entire experience.

"People come out and they bring their families—grandparents, children—and it's kind of like a family outing," he said.

Matt estimated his orchard has 5,000 total plants on it, including blueberries and blackberries as well as figs, jujube, Asian persimmons, Asian pears and citrus fruit. He selected those fruits because they did not require chemicals to preserve.

"One thing I discovered while researching how I wanted to run this orchard was that I didn't want to use chemicals unless I absolutely had to," he said. "So far, in the 17 years I've been open, I haven't had to."

Matt said he often has people come to him who have never tried a fig or jujube before, and he enjoys being able to introduce them to new fruit.

"I'll cut a piece off and give them a sample, and it won't surprise me if they come back with five pounds," he said.

The variety of fruit at Matt's orchard allows him to grow everything during the appropriate season from May through November. Blueberries grow best in May, followed by blackberries in June, while jujubes and figs come in throughout the summer. August is the best time to get Asian pears. Asian persimmons and citrus fruit are big in October and November, which Matt said is his busiest time of year. In the fall, he also sells pumpkins.

In addition to selling fruit, Matt sells fresh vegetables and range-fed eggs, which he personally buys from local farmers. His orchard features a pavilion and activity area, which he rents out.

As one of the only places in the Houston area where people can pick directly from trees, the orchard attracts a lot of customers looking for fresh fruit.

"I've bought figs at the grocery store and something about them didn't taste right," orchard patron Karen Pol said. "You can't get any fresher than picking them yourself."

Expansion plans

Matt Family Orchard owner Rick Matt said he was planning on expanding his orchard last year, but plans were postponed due to the drought. However, he is now moving forward and hopes to have another five acres planted over the course of the next year.

His plans include adding tropical fruits, such as mango, papaya and avocado, in addition to 2,000 more blueberry plants.

Matt is in the process of expanding his irrigation system and constructing high tunnels to protect the tropical fruits from the cold. Both of these projects need to be complete before he begins planting.

He said he plans to have the new plants in the ground by the end of 2012.

Matt Family Orchard, 21110 Bauer Hockley Road, Tomball, 281-351-7676,