Strawberry season arrives in Western Washington

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) - It's Snohomish County's best strawberry season in years.

That's the word from farmers and farming experts who say this year's warm spring helped produce tasty berries on a more seasonal schedule, meaning in June.

Cold, rainy springs in 2011 and 2012 made it rough for some farmers. The berries were late and not as big. A bumper crop this month is showing up in farmers markets, you-pick fields, grocery stores and farm stands throughout the region.

"For generations, Snohomish County's fertile farmland has been home to some of the best strawberries around. It's evident in the abundance of flavor in a fresh-picked local strawberry," said Snohomish County agriculture coordinator Linda Neunzig. "Today those fields are more productive than ever, with the cool rains and warm days we're getting, they are in peak production right now."

Drew Corbin at the Washington State University Extension office in Everett and his colleague, Chris Benedict in Bellingham, said Northwest Washington's strawberries truly are better this year.

"Last year was one of the worst berry growing years that people can remember. This year, we got that early warm up this spring, got good pollination and have had good temperatures this month," Benedict said. "June-bearing strawberries will be going for a few more weeks. We will look back at this season as a good year."

At Biringer Farms of Highway 530 near Arlington, farmers initially were caught without enough berry pickers, said Dianna Biringer, whose family owns the farm.

"It's been crazy. We are so swamped," Biringer said. "The crops came on about a week earlier than expected. Schools weren't out yet and we were short on pickers. After all these years of raising berries, it's still an unpredictable venture."

The Biringers have the sort of heavy crop not seen in about five years, she said.

"On sunny days, our you-pick fields are out-of-control busy," Biringer said. "That's good because we really need a good season."

As do many area farmers, the Biringers grow the Shuksan variety, which was bred for the region, as their primary June-bearing strawberry. They grow a number of other strawberry varieties as well.

Benedict, the WSU crops expert from Bellingham, said that ever-bearing strawberries, what are called "day-length neutral" varieties, are becoming more popular with farmers in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

"In many farmers markets you are going to see strawberries all summer long," Benedict said. "And because of better temperatures, these berries are going to taste really good."

There are many small farms throughout Skagit and Island counties that grow and sell strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and others.

At Gil Schieber's farm near Snohomish, it's the farm's second season for strawberries.

"Our mission here is to be part of a string neighborhood organic farms that people can walk to. Last year, our berries got in the ground at the end of May, so they came on later in August. People said they hadn't tasted anything like them since the 1970s," Schieber said. "We are on a hill, so we had a little bit of late frost this spring. We grow mostly ever-bearing, so it's still early in the season for us."

For Biringer, too, it's just the start of summer.

"We have raspberries coming on already," she said. "It's going to be a good one."

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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