SALISBURY, Md. (AP) -- They're sweet, succulent and ripe for the picking.
It's the height of an especially good strawberry season on the Lower Shore in which the right combination of rain and temperatures has led to bumper crops for local growers.
A sensitive fruit with a short growing season, strawberries were one of the most important commercial crops on the Lower Shore until the early 1900s. Now, producers say high labor costs and competition from mass producers in Florida and California have reduced the number of local strawberry providers to a few specialty markets.
At Wright's Market in Mardela Springs, owner Charles Wright said their "you pick" option remains popular and people should be able to fill their 4 quart basket in about 10 minutes.
"These are probably some of the best strawberries we've had in years," he said. "The weather is perfect."
Growers said enough moisture when the plants were growing followed by relatively dry weather as the berries ripen has combined with sunny skies and cool temperatures to produce lots of sweet berries.
Julia Wycall of Greenbranch Farms near Salisbury said too much rain causes berries to rot and the water dilutes the sugar in the fruit, so the relatively low precipitation of late has been ideal.
While Greenbranch berries may cost slightly more than other options, Wycall said they don't use any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides while they're growing.
On a list developed by the Environmental Working Group, strawberries were ranked as the third most important produce to buy organic due to chemical residues recorded in data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EWG said the best approach was to simply eat a varied diet, rinse all produce and buy organic when possible.
At Oakley's Farm Market in Hebron, manager Connie Oakley credited cool temperatures with keeping berries in pristine condition. Like Oakley, Wycall said the berry crop could remain strong for a few more weeks as long as temperatures don't get too high.
She said different varieties of berries come in at slightly different times, but by mid-June the perfect strawberry season will soon be a memory.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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