Its the time of year when the great British favourite the Gooseberry is ripe and ready for making into lovely desserts, jams and pickles here at Thyme. We grow several different varieties including green and red fruited types in the kitchen garden, these plants are very easy to grow and need little specialised care, producing an abundance of fruit per plant given the right growing conditions.
Gooseberries – or Ribes uva-crispa to give it its Latin name - are native to large areas of Europe, the Caucasus and parts of North Africa. They need a very sunny site and can be trained into standards or cordons (columns) to show off the fruit and make the normal bushy shape of the plant a little more attractive; they can also be trained on a sunny wall to take up less space. The normal way to grow these plants is in rows as a simple bush, they need little attention during the growing season but will want a little water during very hot summer conditions, especially if grown in containers, which they will readily lend themselves to. Buy your plants in late autumn or early spring as bare root or potted specimens and plant in rows 1.5m apart, apply a balanced fertiliser at the time of planting and a good mulch is also helpful.
As with all tasty soft fruit plants there are some common problems with growing this type of plant, predominantly keeping all the British wildlife away from them, because as with strawberries there’s nothing a blackbird, mouse or pigeon loves more than a ripe sweet tasty Gooseberry. It’s a good idea to grow all your soft fruit under cages, this will immediately alleviate the problem of sharing the fruits of your labour with our feathered friends. Another common pest associated with growing Gooseberries is sawfly, these caterpillars can very quickly strip your plants of foliage and thus weaken the crop of fruits you have later in the summer, it’s a good idea to regularly check your plants foliage for these and remove by hand. The final problem that can be more difficult to resolve is Gooseberry mildew, this fungal problem can occur in wet cool conditions and can have a detrimental affect on your crop as it will spread quickly to the fruits. The best way to alleviate this problem is to ensure you do not plant too close together and when pruning in the winter give the plants adequate airflow around the branches, keeping an open centre is very important. If you do happen to be struck down with this problem, carefully remove affected areas and burn the arisings, this will in turn help with the airflow around the plant in future years.
Gooseberries should be ready for picking around early July, the early less sweet fruits can be made into jams, pies and tarts or pickled. As you thin the fruit with the picking it will allow more energy to go into later fruits which will be much sweeter and juicer, but be careful how you harvest these as gentle hands are needed, the larger they grow the thinner their skins which can be damaged easily. If you have spare fruits, make jams or freeze them for a taste of summer in the winter months to come.
My favourite variety is 'Whinham’s Industry', it gives a really good yield; our garden designer Bunny Guinness loves a red gooseberry, her favouriite is 'Rokula' "it has a deep red colour and we tend to pick and eat straight from the bush as it has an amazing delicious sweet gooseberry flavour that even gooseberry haters appreciate. It is pretty mildew resistant too. I grow my gooseberries as standards, i.e. up on a straight stem like a lollipop, - we have planted some in Thyme's Ox Barn Courtyard like this. They look more ornamental grown this way, but more importantly they rarely get troubled with Gooseberry sawfly. This is a pesky fly that removes all their leaves in mid summer. I love home made gooseberry ice cream with fresh strawberry sauce, a perfect summer pudding."
We love gooseberries in baking, savouries and desserts ...