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Gooseberry

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This article is about the plant species Ribes uva-crispa, a shrub with edible fruit commonly referred to as Gooseberry. The berries are usually green, but different cultivars produce a range of yellow, red or white fruit. The flavour is usually tart but modern varieties tend to be sweeter. In a temperate climate forest garden, gooseberries perform excellently in the shrub layer since they are fairly shade tolerant.[1] Along with other Ribes spp. such as blackcurrants (R. nigrum) and redcurrants/whitecurrants (R. rubrum), some consider gooseberries to be the backbone of the shrub layer.[2] They are woodland plants in their natural state.[2]

Background Information

Taxonomy

Common names

Etymology

Varieties

  • "Whinhan's Industry": especially shade tolerant and therefore more appropriate for forest gardens.[2]

History

Originally a woodland and hedgerow plant, the first selective breeding took place in the British Isles in the 16th century, particularly by amatuer growers in the industrial midlands.[3] Traditionally, gooseberry was grown in orchards in the Fens (Eastern England).[2] Yearly gooseberry competions with awards for the largest gooseberry took place in Lancashire,[2] and still take place in some UK villages.[3]

Behaviour

Range

It is sometimes debated whether goosebrry is native to the UK, but it almost certainly is.[3] Some gooseberries growing in the wild do represent garden "escapes" which have been bird sown.[3]

Morphology

Single trunked, multistemmed deciduous shrub.[1] Mature height 1-1.5m and similar spread.

Leaves are 3 or 4 lobed and have blunt toothed margins.[3]

Flowers are green-white,[1] or green-red and drooping.[3]

Fruit are grape sized but more rounded.[3] They are usually hairy.[3] Most are green, but some varieties are red or yellow.[4] Bushes will crop for about 25 years.[1]

Growth Habit

The roots are shallow but spread laterally to a significant degree.[5]

Reproduction

Gooseberry is self fertile (one plant will fruit by itself).[1] Flowers in spring.[1] Flowering fairly resistant to frost.[1] Bee pollintated.[1]

Cultivation: Site Selection

Hardiness

USDA hardiness zone 5.[1]

Soil Type

Slight preference for heavy soils, but can thrive in almost any soil.[5]

Soil pH

pH 6-8.[5] Consider adding some lime if the pH is less than 6.[5]

Shade Preference

Full sun.[1]

Shade Tolerance

Tolerates quite a lot of shade.[1] Under shaded conditions it tends to be more "leggy", fruiting higher up.[1]

Aspect

Exposure

Cultivation: Techniques

Overall, gosoeberries are quite easy to grow.[4] Typically purchased from suppliers as bare-rooted or potted bushes. Advised times to plant range from: winter,[1] or autumn-winter,[5] or autumn to spring.[4] Plant when the weather and soil are favourable,[4] i.e. not during frost and not straight after heavy rain. To prepare the site, one method is to dig deeply and mix manure or compost in the top layer, over a wide area (gooseberry has shallow, lateral spreading roots).[5]

Bushes should be spaced 1.5m apart.[5] As cordons, gooseberries should be spaced 30cm apart (in the row).[5] With the deep bed method, the spacing can be reduced to 1.2m.[5]

Gooseberries are good for small gardens since they fruit heavily and do not take a lot of space (particularly if trained as cordons), and can also be used to utilise shaded areas.[5]

In a temperate climate forest garden, gooseberries perform excellently in the shrub layer since they are quite shade tolerant.[1] Along with other Ribes spp. such as blackcurrants (R. nigrum) and redcurrants/whitecurrants (R. rubrum), some consider gooseberries to be the backbone of the shrub layer.[2] They are woodland plants in their natural state.[2] Some even state that gooseberry is one of the most useful plants for the shrub layer (UK).

Propagation

  • Hardwood cuttings: take cuttings in late autumn and place them in outdoors nursery bed.[1]
  • Mounding: one method of obtaining many rooted plants for transplanting is to hard prune an old bush to within 30cm of the ground in early spring. This encourages new shoots. In midsummer, heap a mound of earth and compost around the bush so that only the tips of the new shoots are visible. In autumn the new canes will have rooted and can be carefully removed from the rest of the plant.[5]

Maintenance

  • Mulch: in spring with manure.[4]
  • Weeding: avoid using a hoe since the roots are shallow.[4]

Watering

Pruning

Gooseberry can be grown as bushes, cordons or standards,[4]

  • Bush: keep centre of the bush form open to prevent stagnant air and easy access to fruit.[4]
  • Cordon: when trained as a cordon, gooseberries take up minimal space,[5] and it is easier to harvest the fruit without injury.[4] This can be done by tying them to stakes which are supported by horizontal wires.[4]

Problems

Overall, gooseberry is not prone to pests and diseases.[4]

  • American Gooseberry Mildew: first sign is white felt covering young leaves and shoots. Berries have a brown covering. Do not give bushes too much nitrogen to prevent it. Remove and burn any afffected shoots. One method is to spray with a mixture of soft soap (228g), washing soda (500g) and water (23 litres), and again during flowering and again when fruit is set.[5]
  • Powdery Mildew: this can be the main problem.[4] Best prevention is good pruning technique to allow circulation of air through the bush.[4]
  • Gooseberry Sawfly: green and black spotted, yellow tailed small caterpillars. They can reproduce 3 times in a single growing season and can eat all the leaves from gooseberry bushes.[5]
  • Red Spider Mite: Tiny red mites gather on leaves, which will turn bronze with a white underside, and eventually dry up and die. Use a jet of water to dislodge them.[5]
  • Birds: birds may strip off new buds in spring.[4]

Harvest

In the wild, gooseberries can be found scattered in woods and hedgerows in most of Europe.[3] Wild gooseberries fruit from early July onwards.[3]

Harvest can begin before the fruit are fully ripe.[4] Acidic, green gooseberries can be harvested in May but they need to be cooked.[1]

Once fully ripe, fruit can be eaten raw.

Pick the fruit with some stalk left attached (remove before storing).[4] One method of quickly harvesting gooseberries is to pull the branches through your hand while wearing a thick glove. Catch the fruit in a sheet. To separate the fruit from fallen leaves and thorns etc, place the contents of the sheet down a board which allows the round fruit to roll down into a container.[5]

For cultivated varieties, yield is about 4kg per year per bush under full sun conditions.[1] Yield is reduced in shade.[1]

Preservation

Fresh fruit will store for only 1-2 weeks.[1] Can be frozen, bottled, pickled or made into jam or other preserves (see: Uses).[4]

  • Freeze: To freeze fresh, wash then top and tail the gooseberries and freeze them in resealable plastic bags.[6] Alternatively can be frozen as a puree after stewing and sieving.[6]
  • Bottle: This was very common before freezers. Strong bottling jars (either screw topped or clip jars, with rubber sealing rings) are heated to a high temperature for long enough to kill bacteria, yeasts and fungi and stop enzymatic activity. The jars are sealed at heat to prevent contamination with micro-organisms. Bottles can be heated either in a large pan of water or in the oven.[6] Top and tail the fruit first. If heating by water, heat to simmering (88°C) in 30 min, then hold this temp for another 2 min. If heating by oven, heat at 150°C for 40 min (up to 2kg fruit) or 60 min (up to 5kg fruit).[6]

Uses

  • Wine -- See: Household Cyclopedia, Wines and Ciders (1881)
  • Jam -- Gooseberries are high in pectin and are useful to add to low pectin fruits which would otherwise not set easily when making jam.[7] Can also be the sole fruit ingredient in a gooseberry jam. Wash, then top and tail. Heat in water and simmer until tender. Continue simmering and stirring until a thick pulp. Add sugar. Stir and boil hard until set.[6]
  • Jelly
  • Fruit leather -- pulp needs thickening.[1]
  • Sauces -- e.g. chutney
  • Pies

Secondary uses:

Cooking

  • Gooseberry Pie[3]
  • Gooseberry Fool, a traditional English desert.[3]
  • Fennel and Gooseberry sauce for mackerel.[3]
  • Gooseberry Chutney[6]

Nutritional Values

References