How to Grow Great Gooseberriescomments (6) August 15th, 2009
Gooseberries have always seemed so British. Over there, no fruit lover would be without a gooseberry bush. Enthusiasts go one step further, joining gooseberry clubs and entering shows to see who can grow the largest berry. Contestants have been known to prepare by carefully thinning excess fruits from the bushes, and using such esoteric practices as “suckling” promising berries (perching a saucer of water beneath a berry just high enough to wet only its far end), and encouraging chickweed growth to increase humidity.
Here in America, however, gooseberries are not well known. But this has not always been the case. Early settlers brought European varieties to the New World, eventually hybridizing them with native American species.
The first hybrid, ‘Houghton’, debuted at the 1847 meeting of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Other varieties with American “blood” soon followed, and gooseberry growing and breeding in America was on the rise. The promising career of the gooseberry here was abruptly halted early in the 20th century when the plant was implicated in the spreading of a disease that also attacks white pines.
The popularity of this wonderful fruit is again on the upswing. This is thanks, in part, to the efforts of the International Ribes Association in spreading the word about gooseberries. Also, specialty nurseries have begun offering better-tasting varieties.
Gooseberries come in many flavors and colors
A fully ripened dessert variety of gooseberry is as luscious as the best apple, strawberry, or grape. In fact, the flavor of gooseberry was considered much like that of grapes in 17th century England, to the extent that gooseberries were raised commercially for fermenting into a delicate summer wine.
|Sources for gooseberries
391 Butts Rd.
Morton, WA 98356
Southmeadow Fruit Gardens
PO Box 211
Baroda, MI 49101
Over the years, I have grown more than 40 varieties. Some, such as ‘Pixwell’ and ‘Mt. Ennis’, were tough and nothing more than sour. The ones I have kept are those whose tender skins envelope an aromatic, tasty pulp. These include ‘Hinnomaki Yellow’, which is fairly disease resistant, with berries that taste somewhat like apricot; ‘Achilles’, a large berry, mostly green with a blush of red and the taste of a well-ripened dessert grape, but with large thorns and high susceptibility to mildew disease; ‘Captivator’, a disease-resistant and almost thornless plant, with small to medium berries that have purplish-pink skin and good flavor; ‘Black Satin’, a disease-resistant, spreading bush, with small to medium fruit that is dark and has sweet, grapelike flavor; ‘Poorman’, a large upright bush that is disease resistant, with small to medium fruit that is pear shaped, reddish, and has good sweet-tart flavor; and ‘Red Jacket’, a large, upright, disease-resistant bush with medium-size, red fruit that has sweet-tart flavor.
The gooseberry bush itself has arching branches that give it a height and spread of 3 to 5 feet. The flowers are self-fertile and open early in the season, but are inconspicuous. Best production is on stems 1 to 4 years old. Gooseberries can be accommodated throughout much of the northern half of the United States if plants are mulched heavily to keep their roots cool, given some shade where summers are torrid, and irrigated where natural rainfall is deficient.
• Gooseberry and Sweet Cicely Cheescake
• Gooseberry and Elderflower Crumble Cake
Gooseberries are less finicky than most other small fruits about soil acidity and tolerate a wide range of soil types, except those that are waterlogged. Where summers are hot, bushes grow better and produce better fruit in heavier soils, which retain more moisture and stay cooler.
Plant gooseberry bushes 4 to 6 feet apart, the precise distance depending on the vigor of the variety and the richness of your soil. Since gooseberry plants are impatient to grow in spring, I set bare-root plants in the ground either in the fall, using plenty of mulch, or as early as possible in spring.
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