MANCHESTER — The familiar sign hand-painted with the fat red berry is back on the side of U.S. Route 202.

It’s been a bit of a wait, and Kenny Trask said people are excited to see the quarts of ripe strawberries at the farm stand he runs with his brother Roger. Trask expects a good season for the fruit.

“If the weather holds out, it’ll be nice,” Trask said. “Last year was a bad season — too much rain, and then it got hot. The berries started rotting right in the field.”

This year has been different. David Handley, small fruit specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension at Highmore Farm in Monmouth, said conditions have been ideal in many ways starting last fall and continuing through this week, when many farms in the Augusta area are opening for picking.

That’s right on schedule, Handley said.

“People have been calling for weeks saying, ‘Are the strawberries ready?'” he said. “The last two years, the crop has come in as much as two weeks early. This year, even though it seems much later, we’re on a more normal ripening period.”

Handley said he expects the best strawberry crop Maine has had in three or four years.

Stevenson’s Strawberries in Wayne opened Thursday. A voicemail message at Sand Hill Farm in Somerville said they planned to open Friday after being closed Wednesday and Thursday to allow for ripening. Ben Marcus of Uncas Farms and Sheepscot General Store in Whitefield said they’ll open for picking at 7 a.m. Sunday.

“The rain kind of slowed down the ripening process a little bit, but once we get these days of sun coming up, we’ll have a lot of ripe berries,” Marcus said Thursday. “There’s a lot of fruit out there.”

Marcus said his one concern was snails, which appeared with the rain this week but may not become a problem if the next few weeks are dry.

Last year’s fall, when strawberry plants start developing flower buds, was a long, warm one, Handley said. Though winter was very cold, fields had the snow cover they needed to minimize damage to plants.

When mild weather arrived this spring, it was later than it had been the previous two years, and it stayed mild. There was no late frost after strawberry plants started blooming, Handley said.

While some growers opened for strawberry picking last weekend, Handley said the crop was light. This weekend should be much better for picking, and the season should peak shortly after the Fourth of July as different varieties start to ripen.

Ford Stevenson said the early season varieties are ripe at his farm in Wayne, and the mid-season varieties should start to come in with the warm weather forecast for next week.

Stevenson said most farms should have a good supply of berries, but of course the weather can turn at any time.

“I tell people it’s like fishing,” Stevenson said. “Some days you hit it good, some days you got to work, but the nice thing about this is you’re always going to get something.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan


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