Rostron Nelson holds up a plump, red strawberry and turns it in the hot sunlight. "These are pretty sweet," he says, turning to survey his rows of strawberry plants, "but I can find a better one than that."
Nelson, 72, is one of about a half-dozen farmers in the county who offer "you-pick" opportunities to strawberry lovers. At the farms, connoisseurs can select berries from rows of the crimson fruit for prices lower than local grocery stores.
Nelson's Pasadena farm has done a booming business since he begantwo years ago with just 100 plants. Before that, Nelson raised chickens and grew tomatoes, potatoes, squash and other produce. He found strawberries more profitable and now has dozens of rows populated by several varieties.
"I've got so many now that I can hardly climb them!" he jokes. The short green plants cover about half of his approximately 2-acre spread.
"I made more off strawberries than all my other crops," Nelson says. "That works out to about $3 an hour."
Farmers this year are expecting a pretty good crop, in contrast with thefrost-damaged harvest of 1990. The early spring weather and abundantrainfall have plumped the berries and kept the plants healthy.
"Conditions were ideal for a good crop, and I take extra-special care of the plants," says Anthony Smith, who farms strawberries in Annapolis.
But some growers are wary of the hot weather that has settled on the area the last few days.
"When the temperature gets around 82, 83 degrees, it's too hot for the berries; they get sunburn. Eighty is an ideal temperature," says Louis S. Boehm Jr. of Country View Farms in Crownsville.
Too much heat, he says, could be as disastrous as a heavy frost.
But area growers remain optimistic.
"It's gonna be a real heavy crop this year," Smith says. "There's plenty of them, and they're nice berries."
Robert Robey, an Odenton farmer, concurs, saying the crop "looks pretty decent so far."
Some farms have opened earlier than predicted, with early-ripening varieties readyto pick. But the bulk of the crop will ripen after Saturday, according to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service. The picking season lasts from three to five weeks, depending on the weather and the turnout.
This year, area growers have set strawberry prices at around 79 cents a pound.
Although some growers provide cartons, pickers should bring shallow containers (deep containers tend tocrush the berries on the bottom). Strawberries should be taken home directly, as they will soften and spoil in the heat.
Nelson, whosefarm will open for picking near the end of the month, moved to the county from Baltimore in 1947; he says he couldn't stand living where he couldn't farm. Once in Pasadena, he began raising crops and hasn'tstopped since. He still sells fresh eggs shipped in daily from another local farmer, but right now strawberries are his main concern. He prides himself on using no pesticides and taking loving care of his plants.
"No dust on them, just like the good Lord grew them," Nelson emphasizes, walking past rows of berries and a set of ragged scarecrows.
Approximately 30 varieties of strawberries are grown in the county, each with a different sweetness and texture. Varieties such as surecrop, which resists harsher weather but has a tarter taste thanother berries, are good for preserves and pies. Others, like the large, orangish all-star berries, are better suited for jelly.
The Cooperative Extension Service offers a county pick-your-own directory that offers a list of area farmers, plus hints on picking, storing andcooking with strawberries. It can be picked up at county libraries or the extension office, Arundel Center North in Glen Burnie. For information, call the extension office at 222-6759.
Before going to pick strawberries, contact the farmer for directions and to get an ideaof what varieties to expect.
Nelson is hoping for a good turnout this year and is preparing to meet people who love strawberries as much as he does.
"Boy," he says, "I can eat a strawberry any time."
THE PICK OF PICK-YOUR-OWN FARMS
The pick of pick-your-own farms
These county farmers offer pick-your-own strawberries.
Anthony G. Smith
580 Broadneck Road
Timothy and James Hopkins
Mount Airy-U-Pick Farm
832 MountAiry Road
798-0838 or 798-1862
1392Waugh Chapel Road
674-6168 or 674-7285
Source: Maryland Cooperative Extension, Anne Arundel County Office, Arundel Center North, 101 Crain Highway N.W., Glen Burnie; 222-6759
Louis S. Boehm Jr.
Country View Farms
1369 St. Stephens ChurchRoad
631 W. Bay Front Road
8059 Long Hill Road