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Better weather, better prices

Improved weather should bring good news later this month in the form of increased supplies of Florida produce and lower prices at the supermarket.

Typically, May is a time for abundant harvests of Florida carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage, sweet corn and eggplant, but unusually wet weather delayed planting and, as a result, harvesting.

By mid-May, however, most of those vegetables should be in good supply, said Bob Blankenship of the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"We are just hoping that we have a good spring," he said. "Our supply for the winter was down about 20 percent; consequently, retail prices were up."

Damage to Florida's fruit and vegetables since late last year has been about $65-million, soaring to $100-million for all agricultural products, Blankenship said.

In Georgia, the prize peach crop also suffered because of this season's inclement weather. A late frost caused losses of up to 40 percent in some places. Still, Georgia officials are saying there will be a peach crop this year. Georgia peaches usually are available by mid-May.

Besides lower prices for Florida crops, mid-May also will signal the end of stone crab season. Those who enjoy grouper can look forward to a drop in prices for the fresh catch this month.

Produce

In May, expect to find apples, artichokes, asparagus, avocados, apricots, snap beans, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, sweet corn, grapes, eggplant, cucumbers, lettuce, mangoes, okra, papaya, bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, plums, summer squash, watermelons and peaches.

New this month: apricots, peaches, watermelons.

Best buy: sweet corn.

Shopping tips: When buying fresh okra, be sure to select tender pods. This can be done by bending the tips, which should give with very little pressure. Purchase pods that are about 4 inches long and bright green. Okra can be refrigerated for about a week.

Mangoes: Mangoes are available in a variety of shapes and colors. When purchasing, it is best to select fruit that is fairly firm. Mangoes should be kept at room temperature until ripe. They can be refrigerated for a few days.

Peaches: The folks at the Georgia Peach Commission suggest that you smell peaches before buying. They should have a sweet fragrance. Also look for a creamy gold under-color. The red or "blush" of a peach is an indication of variety, not ripeness. When shopping, look for a well-defined crease that runs from stem to point.

Seafood

The season for stone crabs, that Florida delicacy beloved by visitors and locals alike, ends May 15.

Before then, this gourmet treat will be available for about $7.99 a pound for medium claws and $9.99 a pound for large and jumbo claws, said Gib Migliano of Save on Seafood in St. Petersburg.

Even as stone crabs disappear, blue crabs will be making an appearance. They should be plentiful this year, Migliano said, adding that the price of blue crabs will start at about $8.50 a dozen for medium and $12 a dozen for jumbo.

Good weather also should mean lower prices for grouper. Fillets will cost about $7.99 a pound, down from as high as $10.99 in recent months.

Key West pink shrimp are expected to cost around $5.99 a pound for medium, $7.99 a pound for large and $10.99 a pound for jumbo, Migliano said.

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