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Local strawberry season off to an early start

After last year's "miserable" crop, Dan Latham is hoping for a good strawberry year. So far, so good: The Orient farmer started picking strawberries on Saturday, the earliest he can remember in his 40-odd years working his family farm.

While some heavy-hitting North Fork strawberry growers - Harbes in Mattituck, Wickham's in Cutchogue - are anticipating a traditional early June start date, Latham's (with stands in Orient and on First Street in Greenport), Briermere Farms on Sound Avenue in Riverhead and Bay View Farm on Main Road in Aquebogue are already selling strawberries for from $5 to $6 a quart.

Carl McComb, co-owner of Briermere Farms, said that he started picking Sunday morning. He is growing an early-maturing variety called Early Glow but was nevertheless surprised to see ripe fruit so early.

Latham gives much of the credit to the weather. "It was that 75-, 80-degree weather we had in April, after that deluge in March," he said.

Like most farmers, Latham grows a number of strawberry varieties in an effort to extend the season as long as possible.

Memorial Day is the traditional start of the strawberry season, and that is when Patricia Harbes DiVello expects the bulk of the berries at Harbes, a U-pick mainstay. "Right now," she says, "I'm seeing a teensy little splash of red."