In praise of GooseberriesPosted By: rocket veg Category: Plant Care
Why oh why is the name of that glorious fruit, the gooseberry, also used when referring to an unwanted third person who tags along, puts a damper on things and generally gets in the way. Certainly not good lookers, gooseberries – green (well, some varieties) and hairy, with hideously sharp thorns along the stems. But when picked and popped into the mouth, the humble berries reveal their full glory – sweet, juicy and luscious!
It’s been a great year for gooseberries, helped by long sunny spells to encourage the berries develop and swell. Early July is the beginning of the gooseberry harvest, the precious crop certainly worth the bother of getting spiked flesh while picking and then the faff of ‘topping and tailing’.
How to grow gooseberries
Gooseberry bushes are easy to grow and relatively straightforward to prune and train. They do well in most types of soil, but prefer a spot in the sun. Left unchecked, a gooseberry bush will grow pretty large, so if your space is limited, train a young plant to grow against a sunny wall or fence. Now is not the time to plant a new gooseberry, so if you are reading this and champing at the bit to get started, you’ll need to hang on until autumn to obtain and plant bare-rooted stock.
Now for the technical bit. When the time comes to plant new gooseberries, allow 1.2 to 1.4m (4 to 5 feet) between the bushes. If you decide to grow and train the plants as cordons, you can plant much closer – 30 to 40cm (12 to 18 inches) apart – and tie each plant to a tall cane which is secured to horizontal wires crossing the wall or fence. A neat line of cordon-trained plants looks very impressive, especially when dripping with ripe fruit!
Pruning is a pretty straightforward affair, so sharpen your secateurs, hold your nerve and make a start. For gooseberry bushes, aim to create an open structure of branches in the shape of a goblet which will allow light and air to reach the centre of the bush and encourage flowering and the development of fruit. In winter, cut off all low-growing branches and any dead wood; then spur prune all side shoots to one to three buds from the base and cut each branch back by a quarter to a healthy, outward-facing bud. In July, prune back new growth by a third, except for five branches which form the main structure.
If you train your gooseberry plants as cordons, when you first plant, remove a quarter of the stem, cutting to just above a bud and remove all side shoots that are 15cm (6in) from the ground or below; then prune all young side shoots to one or two buds. From then on, during the summer, tie the growing tip to the cane as the plant reaches upwards and prune all side shoots to five leaves. In winter, remove a third of the tip of the plant and prune the same side shoots to one or two buds. It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds, so give it a go.
Harvesting – get there before the birds!
Beware…the minute your gooseberries begin to ripen, every bird in the neighbourhood will descend from the sky and strip the bushes, cheeky blackbirds being especially fond of gooseberries! Cover with netting or you’ll lose the lot. Although the best time to harvest is in July, you can begin to pick smaller berries a week or so before and use these for making jam and in crumbles tarts and pies. The berries which are left will then have more space to carry on swelling, ripen and then be ready to pick and eat a week or two later.
My favourite varieties of gooseberry are Whinhams Industry which produces stunning deep red berries and Invicta for beautiful green fruit with pale green/white flesh. I have had my gooseberry bushes for many years and they still produce excellent crops. If you don’t have a gooseberry bush on your allotment, why not make plans now to plant one this winter.