Thursday, 30 January 2014

Under the gooseberry bush

Ripe dessert gooseberries (Gooseberry 'Pax') ready for harvest.
We've planted three gooseberry bushes in the Secret Garden this winter, in a sunny sheltered bed down by the summerhouse. With the fig tree establishing itself against the summerhouse walls, it's a good spot for soft fruit: south-west facing, out of the main winds, and not exposed so it won't get the worst of the frosts.

We've planted a cooking variety, Invicta, which will ripen to a bright green and which are superb in tarts and crumbles. Gooseberries also make a remarkably good curd - see here for MsMarmiteLover's gooseberry curd recipe.

Some dessert varieties will ripen to a golden, or maroon colour, are much sweeter when ready to be picked and can be eaten straight from the bush. Cooking gooseberries are much tarter, even when ripe. They generally stay green (but then, so do some sweet varieties).

Gooseberry plants have vicious thorns and Invicta are also known for being particularly thorny - we'll wear gloves when picking, pruning, or hand-weeding them.

Gooseberries are pretty forgiving where soil is concerned - you can plant them in clay, or poor soil, so long as it is reasonably well-drained, but they do like the sun. Often you will buy them as bare-rooted, pruned, plants in winter - the best time to plant them is November/December, or early spring. Don't try to plant out your new gooseberries when the ground is frozen, or waterlogged. If your plants are delivered and the conditions aren't right, just pot them up in a pot big enough to take the roots comfortably and keep the pot somewhere sheltered and frost-free until they can go in the open ground.
Gooseberries potted up to be planted out when the ground is
neither waterlogged nor frosted.

To plant out, soak your bare-rooted plants for about half an hour beforehand in a bucket of water. (If your plants are potted up, water them well before planting out. Dig out a squarish hole where you want the gooseberries to go, and fork in some organic matter. Water thoroughly. Place the gooseberry plant gently in the hole and spread the roots out. The plant should sit comfortably so that the soil surface is just above the roots at the base of the stem - there will be a mark on the stem showing the original planting depth, and you should plant to the same level as this again. Fill the hole again with the displaced soil, firming it lightly as you go and holding the plant steady so that it remains upright. Mulch with some more organic matter and water again.
Gooseberries 'Invicta' planted out, with a little extra organic mulch around the base of each plant. 

If you have finches in your neighbourhood you might consider covering your trees with a net in winter: finches love the embryonic gooseberry buds as they develop. Otherwise, leave your bushes to settle in, watering them regularly until they are established.

Gooseberries fruit on two year old wood, so don't worry too much if you don't get a crop in your first year. The plants will flower in May here in London, although the flowers on many varieties are small and easily missed. The fruit will start to ripen in July, and now you should definitely consider a net unless you want the birds to help themselves to your crop.
Gooseberries ripening under a net to protect them from birds.

In a really good year when it looks as though you're going to have a glut, you can thin the unripe fruits out in May/June, leaving half to two-thirds of the crop to ripen on. If you have a dessert variety, the unripe fruits can be prepared as though they were cooking gooseberries, with the promise of the sweeter ripe fruit still to come. You get the best of both worlds.

Newly planted out in the open ground.

1 comment:

  1. I hope 2014 proves to be a good year for you and yours.


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