Inca berries are fruit the size of cherries and packed full of goodness. According to published food sources they contain almost as much vitamin A as carrots, more iron than kale, and more potassium than bananas.
Best of all, they taste good. Inca berries are sometimes referred to as cape gooseberries, and are not too dissimilar in taste to dessert gooseberries. The inca berries I have grown are slightly sweeter than my homegrown gooseberries, but still tangy at the same time.
- February – April
- Planting depth: 1 cm deep
- Planting spacing: Minimum distance 50 cm apart in all directions
- August to October
- Eat fresh
Inca berries are an exotic fruit originating from South America. On my allotment, I have grown them successfully in a polytunnel as an annual plant following a similar method to tomatoes – but requiring less care.
Despite their South American heritage, inca berries have a reputation for being hardy. When the plants die back in winter, a thick mulch covering may be sufficient to allow the plant to survive, and if successful will bring even bigger harvests the following year. On my plot, my plants have not survived the winter.
Inca berries need a long growing season, and the seeds need warmth to germinate. Sowing the seeds on a sunny windowsill in February or March is best.
I sow two seeds for each small pot, placing them on top of moist compost and covered with a thin layer of perlite. A protective hood of plastic food wrap, or if possible an electric propagator, can help.
The seeds take their time to germinate, approximately 20 days or more.
Young inca berry plants will be killed by frost, so if in doubt, wait until late May before moving outside. I have found the most delicate stage to be germination and the first few weeks of growth. Once established, the plants look strong, with big green leaves, and soon develop into big plants similar in size to tomatoes.
The good news is that inca berry plants are very easy to care for. They are tolerant of dry conditions, do not require pruning, and do not require support in my polytunnel (the fruit are small and light).
The first sign of the fruit to come is the formation of buds suspended from the branches. These develop into small bright yellow flowers, that in turn transition to become the fruit.
Having sown my plants in February, I needed to wait until August for the first fruit to be ready. Tiny mouthfuls of delightfulness, and tasting like nothing else grown on my plot. Their fragile leaf hoods add to a sense of unwrapping a present, with the mysterious bright orange fruit protected within.
I would not describe my harvests as large, certainly when compared to a tomato plant or gooseberry bush. My understanding is that if you are able to overwinter the plants, the second year’s harvest is larger.
See Inca Berry varieties.