Gooseberries are not only for people that enjoy sour flavours. In reality, there are many varieties. It is true that some are best suited for making traditional puddings coated in large amounts of sugar, but others are delicious eaten raw.
Like tomatoes, a gooseberry can come in many different colours – I have red gooseberry bushes, white gooseberry bushes, and yellow gooseberry bushes on my allotment. They are remarkably easy to grow and care for. Growing gooseberries is one of life’s pleasures, and not to be missed!
- October – March
- Planting depth: Cover root ball
- Planting spacing: Minimum 1 m spacing between bushes in all directions
- May – July
- Eat fresh, turn into jams and jellies, freeze
Gooseberries can forgive a lack of water, require very little pruning, and still produce large quantities of fruit.
Gooseberries are wonderfully self sufficient. Some gardeners even recommend deliberately treating gooseberries hard – with little water and little care – in order to produce the best fruit. I do not do this, but compared to many other plants at the allotment, my gooseberry bushes require very little attention.
When to plant gooseberries? The best time to plant gooseberry bushes is when they are dormant (ie not in leaf) between the end of autumn and early spring. For all my fruit bushes, at initial planting I mix into the potting hole a good quantity of well rotted compost and manure.
During the spring, I apply a thick mulch of the best compost or rotted manure I can find. This is both to feed the bushes and keep the weeds down. After this, apart from pouring a watering can or two over its head about once a week in hot weather, I find the bushes do their magic all on their own.
Even though a gooseberry bush is pretty much self sufficient, many gardeners complain that their bush only produces a few fruit each year – or even remark that their bush is barren. At my allotment this phenomena has a simple solution – a net.
It is true that it is possible to be unlucky, perhaps the bush does not enjoy its soil, or the soil is not rich enough in nutrients, or that it has caught some disease. A late frost when the bush is flowering can be destructive.
However, most frequently, the cause is birds. Birds can eat quickly and thoroughly, completely removing the fruit, even when it is only just forming.
A cheap net for a pound or two from a discount store, some canes, and wooden clothes pegs to keep the net is place, is a quick and easy solution. Wooden clothes pegs are the key. Plastic ones snap too quickly with sun damage.
A passion for gooseberries does not need to come at a high price. A very endearing characteristic of gooseberries is that they are easy to propagate from gooseberry cuttings.
The ideal time for taking gooseberry cuttings is late summer, or even just after you have eaten the last fruit from the bush. The easiest option is to look around the bush for branches that have lanced down into the soil. This is a gooseberry bush’s preferred way of spreading.
When you see this, wait for signs that the submerged branch has sunk roots – like leaf formation around the new shoot that emerges from the soil. Then snip! Put the cutting into compost and wait for nature to do its work. You will not know that you have been successful until the next spring, when hopefully you will see the cutting develop leaf buds.
Some types of gooseberry naturally throw their branches upwards. The technique for taking a cutting needs to be slightly different for these varieties. After fruiting, look for about 15cm long new branches (ones that do not look woody). Snip about four off with secateurs, ideally just below a set of leaves, and then plunge them into wet soil.
For the next few weeks ensure that the soil never dries out – and with luck within a couple of months you will see evidence of vigour in the cuttings. If you have a growhouse or greenhouse, my tip would be to leave them overwintering inside these to avoid the most harsh extremes of weather. This is not essential – gooseberries are hardy by nature, and should survive if left outside.
There are three common colours: purple or red gooseberries, yellow gooseberries, and green gooseberries.
There are dessert varieties that look and taste like grapes, but with a distinctive gooseberry character and flavour. Others rip into your taste buds, determine to explode their flavour, leaving a sweet and sharp sensation that some people prefer to sweeten in cooking.
At my allotment I grow three varieties, each with their own character and each one I love dearly – they are worth every centimetre of growing space.
Gooseberry Careless produces big green / yellow fruit in very large quantities. It has grown extremely well. In its first year, I only had a handful of fruit as the bush took root (and I learned that I needed to use nets against birds). The following year the plant produced huge quantities of fruit, that also kept well on the bush, allowing my family time to eat our way through the harvest.
The taste is fresh like a strong English apple, so not as sweet as other varieties. On planting, I mixed in large amounts of well rotted compost, about 50% soil and 50% compost. I apply a mulch in the spring to avoid having to water too often, and this reduces the need to weed around the bush.
The gooseberry Hinnonmaki Yellow plant looks ugly, is low growing, and has thorns designed to protect Sleeping Beauty ever being found by her prince.
The fruit looks tiny and unappealing, the ones you would leave behind at the supermarket as being too small, in favour of larger greener varieties. The truth is that the fruit is simply delicious, exploding with sweetness in your mouth, and a perfect example of why I think gooseberries are one of the best kept secrets on the allotment.
Even better still, this bush throws off branches similar to how strawberry plants throw off runners, burying themselves in the soil and making it very easy (once established) to cut free the new baby bushes from the parent plant. Simply lovely.
My most recent arrival at the allotment is a red gooseberry, called Whinham’s Industry. Having researched online and in books I had high expectations, and the fruits are absolutely sweet, delicious, and in demand from my family!