Harvesting Gooseberries: How And When To Harvest Gooseberry Plants
By: Amy Grant
Gooseberries are divided into either European (Ribes grossularia) or American (R. hirtellum) types. These cool weather berries thrive in USDA zones 3-8 and can be eaten fresh or turned into delicious jams or jellies. All well and good, but how do you know when to harvest gooseberries? Read on to find out how to harvest gooseberries and about gooseberry harvest time.
When to Harvest Gooseberry Plants
In order to determine when to begin picking gooseberries, it’s a good idea to know how you are going to utilize them. Why is that? Well, the great news is that you can harvest gooseberries that are not fully ripe. No, they don’t continue to ripen but if you are going to use them for preserves, they actually work better when they are unripe, firm and slightly bitter.
If you want to pick the ripe berries, color, size and firmness will give you an idea about when to begin harvesting gooseberries. Some types of gooseberry turn red, white, yellow, green or pink when it’s gooseberry harvest time, but the best way to tell if they are ripe is to squeeze them gently; they should have a little give. As to size, American gooseberries get to about ½ inch long and their European counterparts to about an inch in length.
Gooseberries don’t ripen all at once. You’ll be harvesting gooseberries over a nice long 4-6 weeks beginning in early July. Plenty of time to harvest very ripe berries suited to eating out of hand and plenty of under-ripe berries to preserve.
How to Harvest Gooseberries
Gooseberries have thorns, so before picking gooseberry plants, put on a good, thick pair of gloves. Although this isn’t an absolute, it does help avoid injury. Commence tasting. Really, the best way to decide if the berry is where you want it in the ripening stage is to taste a few.
If the berries are at the stage you want them, just pull the individual berries off the stems and put them in a bucket. Don’t bother to pick the ones up off the ground. They are overripe. To prolong the freshness of the berries, refrigerate them.
You can also harvest the gooseberries en masse. Place a canvas, plastic tarp or old sheets on the ground under and around the gooseberry bush. Shake the branches of the bush to dislodge any ripe (or almost ripe) berries from the limb. Make a cone of the tarp by gathering the edges together and funnel the berries into a bucket.
Continue to harvest the gooseberries weekly as they ripen on the plant. Eat the ripe berries immediately, or freeze them for later use. Unripe berries can be made into preserves or otherwise canned.
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How to Grow Gooseberries From Planting to Harvest
Discover how to grow gooseberries! From planting your first gooseberry bush to harvesting the sweet berries, we’ll cover all your growing information—right up to making that gooseberry pie!
Gooseberries are increasingly popular! They weren’t grown for a long time because they (and currants) could host white pine blister rust, which is very troublesome to the lumber industry. There are fewer restrictions than there used to be and we’re happy to see these sweet berries are making a comeback. They’re great for eating fresh or in pies, crumbles, and jams.
Most major seed companies carry gooseberry plants (they’ll mark the restricted states which don’t allow shipping).
If you’re not familiar with gooseberries, they tend to be a little smaller than a grape and their color can range from pale green to yellow to red. They have a blueberryish flavor (some say there are hints of kiwi or grape). The varieties are usually described as either culinary or dessert varieties. Culinary gooseberries are usually cooked into jellies, pies and other desserts with plenty of sugar. Dessert varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush, but are great for cooking too. Some varieties are virtually thornless, and it’s important to choose a variety that is resistance to disease, mildew and pests.
Gooseberry bushes grow well in most soils, are easy to prune, and are very high-yielding. They are self-pollinating, so you can only need one to produce fruit. Each gooseberry bush produces about 10 pounds of fruit per year.
Best Growing Conditions for Gooseberries
Gooseberries aren’t fussy, but they’ll grow and yield best in a sunny position in rich,well-drained soil. Gooseberries will naturally grow into vigorous bushes, but they may also be trained as standards on a long single trunk, or against a fence as fans or single-stemmed cordons. They can be successfully grown in containers too.
(Please note that in a few areas of the United States growing gooseberries is prohibited because they can host white pine blister rust, a disease that is devastating to the lumber industry. Check for local restrictions before sourcing plants.)
Planting Gooseberry Bushes
Plant bare-root or container-grown gooseberries from late fall to early spring, any time the ground isn’t frozen solid. Dig a generous planting hole then mix well-rotted compost or manure with the excavated soil. Position the gooseberry bush in the hole at the same depth it was planted before (you should see a darker soil line on the stem or stems). Fill in the hole with the enriched soil, making sure to firm it in well. Water to settle the soilthen mulch with organic matter to help suppress weeds and feed your new plant. Space additional bushes at least four feet apart. Cordons can be just 18 inches apart.
Caring for Gooseberries
Keep your gooseberry bushes well-watered while they’re young or if they’re growing in containers. Established gooseberry bushes need very little watering, unless your climate is hot and dry.
At the end of each winter use a balanced organic fertilizer. Remove any weeds around the root area before topping up with at least an inch thick layer of organic matter such as garden compost or bark chippings.
Pruning Gooseberry Bushes
Most pruning is carried out in winter while the bush is dormant. First cut out all dead or diseased wood, any shoots growing close to the ground, and tangled or overcrowded branches. Then cut the previous season’s growth on the remaining branches back by a half. Cut sideshoots coming off the main branches back to between one and three buds from the base of the shoot. Make all cuts just above an outward facing bud to promote an open habit that encourages good airflow around the branches. Finally, dig up any stems (or ‘suckers’) growing up from ground level away from the main stem.
In early summer, cut all new sideshoots that have grown in the current season back to just five leaves.
Prevent birds from stealing your gooseberries by covering bushes with netting, or grow them inside a purpose-made fruit cage.
Harvesting begins in early summer. Harvest dessert or dual-purpose varieties in stages. The under-ripe fruits are ideal for cooking, and riper fruits will be sweeter and larger. The fruits are soft so handle them gently and wear thick gloves if your bush is of a thorny variety.
Gooseberries are best eaten immediately after picking, but they’ll remain fresh in therefrigerator for up to a week. You can also freeze them.
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How to Grow
- Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients. Control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their seeds from germinating.
- Mulch around the plants to a depth of 2-3 inches of organic matter to preserve moisture and prevent weeds.
- Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1-2 inches of rain per week during the growing season. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
- In spring, before any leaves sprout, apply a granular fertilizer following the instructions on the label. Most new growth will come from the plant’s crown from under the soil. Plants use a lot of energy in spring when new growth begins, so do not let plants dry out.
- Prune in winter or early spring before the new growth begins.
- Prune out all but 6 strongest canes first year.
- The second winter prune out everything but the original 6 canes and the 3 strongest new canes.
- The third winter prune out all but the 3 strongest canes from last year’s growth plus the 3 strongest canes from this year’s growth.
- Every year after the third year remove all canes over 3 years of age down to the ground. Remove all but the strongest 3 of the current year’s growth. Do not remove any 2 year old canes. Gooseberries produce fruit on canes that are 1, 2 and 3 year old canes.
- Monitor for Pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
- Protect fruit crops with bird netting as they approach ripeness or bag individual clusters with sturdy, brown paper bags tied securely to the cane when clusters are about half developed. Leave enough air space in the bags for clusters to develop.
Cape gooseberries: grow, care and harvest
Not only are these caped crusaders tasty, but they're prolific self-seeders and easy to grow. In fact their only kryptonite is frost.
Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) is not actually a gooseberry. In fact it is a member of the Solanaceae family and thus is related to the tomato and other nightshades. While the berry-sized golden fruit is full of tiny seeds like a tomato, its explosion of tart taste is unlike anything else.
The fruit is encased in a paper husk, earning it the name "love in cage" in France and making it a delight for children to unwrap.
Starting off green, the husk turns a papery, transparent fawn colour when ripe, by which time the internal fruit has swollen into a bright golden yellow orb. When fully ripe the entire lantern will fall from the plant with the slightest tremor.
HOW TO GROW
Some people consider cape gooseberry plants to be weeds but they are exactly my sort of plant and are a self-sufficient essential in my food forest.
They're easy to grow from seed and quickly grow into a waist-high sprawling bush. They pretty much require no care whatsoever and they're not affected by bugs or diseases either. However, they are frost sensitive and the first few years I grew them, I had to raise seeds in late winter alongside my tomatoes and plant them out early to get the fruit to ripen before the winter chill.
Now that I have the protection of canopy trees, they self-seed, and in warmer microclimates, they'll even re-grow from last year's roots.
In more tropical climates cape gooseberries are perennial and will apparently fruit all year round.
HARVESTING CAPE GOOSEBERRIES
In autumn, cape gooseberries supply masses of paper lanterns, each containing their own hidden treasure of a fruit full of intense flavour. Because picking and dehusking them can be rather fiddly, I think they are best grown beside a path where they can be nibbled on by passersby.
However they're excellent for turning into tarts and jam, so taking the time to harvest and process them is definitely rewarding.
Dehusk and rinse them in a weak vinegar solution for storing in the fridge or freezing them in a plastic bag where they will stay free flow until needed.
The intense and slightly tart taste is also delicious in muffins, makes a great sauce to go with pork and a superior jam or fruit cheese but is best in a white chocolate cheesecake.
Cape gooseberry & white chocolate cheesecake
Base: Crush 100g gingernut biscuits into fine crumbs and mix with 50g melted butter. Press into the base of a 19cm diameter spring form tin and chill in fridge for 20 minutes.
To make the filling: In a saucepan, combine 200g cape gooseberries and 1 tablespoon sugar. Heat for five minutes until soft. Drain off the liquid (mix the drained cape gooseberry liquid with soda water to make a delicious drink or iceblock.) Lightly mash half of the gooseberry mix with a potato masher or stick mixer. Set aside to cool.
Mix together until smooth, 150g mascarpone, 150g cream cheese, then fold in 150ml whipped cream and a few drops of vanilla essence.
In a bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, melt 100g white chocolate, ½ tablespoon gelatine dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water and the juice of juice of half a lemon.
Fold the white chocolate mix into the cheese mix, then gently fold the gooseberries through. Pour onto the chilled base and chill until set – about three hours.
To make cape gooseberry sauce: Heat a further 300g cape gooseberries with 1 tablespoon sugar until soft. Drain off the liquid and mash berries with a stick mixer until smooth. Return some liquid to the mixture if needed but you want a thick paste.
To serve. Serve slices of cheesecake with a dollop of cape gooseberry sauce.
Cape gooseberry seeds are available from Kings Seeds. Plants are available from garden centres that stock the Incredible Edibles range and they can also order them in for you.
How to Plant, Grow, Prune, and Harvest Gooseberries
Gooseberries are small, round thin-skinned fruits that look a lot like grapes. Ripe gooseberries can be green, pink, yellow, or white. Some gooseberry varieties are for fresh-eating and desserts others are for cooking—pies, tarts, jam, jellies, and sauces and some varieties can be used both fresh and cooked.
The gooseberry is a hardy, deciduous, perennial shrub that grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Gooseberries grow best in cool-summer regions in winter gooseberries will benefit from temperatures cold enough to freeze the top few inches of soil. There are varieties that will grow in slightly warmer regions.
The gooseberry can carry a disease called white pine blight. In regions where white pines grow, gooseberry planting has been controlled in the past. Check with the nearby Cooperative Extension Service to see if gooseberries are commonly grown in your area.
Cultivation and History
Gooseberries have been cultivated in the UK since at least the 1400s, and in the US since the 1800s.
Growers in the States started by crossing native plants with European varieties.
In parts of England, there used to be dozens of clubs aimed at growing the largest, tastiest berries. Most of these older cultivars have disappeared, but a few persist today.
Perhaps part of the reason these berries aren’t very popular as a modern-day fruit is that they were banned by the Federal Government in 1911, along with currants.
Both plants can host white pine blister rust, which can impact all types of five-needled pine trees. The timber industry lobbied to have the plant banned, and the ban stayed in place until 1966.
Now, it’s up to individual states to decide if they’ll allow gooseberries. These days, a few areas in the Northeast limit or prohibit growing them. These areas include parts of New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine.
While you could serve gooseberries with a cooked goose, and this association may be the reason for its name, the name is also thought to come from the German word Krausebeere. It may also come from the French word for currant, groseille.
Recommended gooseberry varieties for the hobby garden
The renaissance of the gooseberry in the home garden is accompanied by an explosive expansion of variety. The following overview presents outstanding breeds which convince with special attributes.
They are shimmering green-yellow to whitish and have proven themselves in the house garden for generations. There is nothing wrong with the following varieties:
- Green ball: Smooth, translucent skin, fine sour taste, growth height 40 inches
- White Lion: Ancient variety with round fruits, especially juicy and sweet, suitable for tub culture
- King of Trumps: Yellow, juicy berries, red marbled, ideal for eating directly from the shrub and for freezing
Red light balls
With their red fruits, the following varieties not only promise refreshing enjoyment, but also decorate the visual appearance of the garden:
- Maiherzog: Old variety from 1890 with thick, red berries, delicious aroma for fresh consumption and boiling down
- Ironmonger: Noble breeding from England with paired fruit hanging, very thin skin
- Red Triumph: Rarity with countless small gooseberries, well suited for green picking
Grow these gooseberry varieties and even help the children to harvest them. The following breeds do not have thorns at all:
- Larell: Smooth, red berries, burst-proof and very sweet, the ideal gooseberry for balconies and terraces
- Pax: For harvest from the end of June, beautiful red fruits, resistant against powdery American gooseberry mildew
- Spinefree: Very robust, light red gooseberries with smooth skin, virtually no spines
Ideal candidates for gooseberry strains
They are undoubtedly on the advance in the small garden, because gooseberry high stems still deliver a lush harvest when space is limited:
- Hinnonmäki: Richly bearing with red berries, growth height up to 47 inches, little, hairy, and burst-resistant
- Invicta: Vigorous, robust, many green gooseberries with a sour-freshening aroma
- Mucurines: Light green fruits, very aromatic and resistant against mildew and leaf fall
Do you like to plant fruit in your garden that is out of the ordinary? Then the Duo gooseberry is the right choice for you. Here, two varieties unite in a single shrub. With ‘Hinnonmäki yellow and red’ you are guaranteed curious views over the garden fence.
Tips & Tricks
If you prefer to keep your gooseberries in tubs, a minimum volume of 8-11 gallons is advisable. Since most varieties grow up to 16 inches per year, very frequent repotting would be necessary. This stress is not good for the shallow-root weevils.
COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS
|Date: 13 May 2020||From: Wendy J|
|QUESTION: : I have a lot of fruit forming on my three gooseberry plants but a significant number of fruits have dropped off. This happened last year too. Some sources say this is due to the cold and yet at the top of your article you say that gooseberries grow well in the Uk because of the cold climate. I live on the east coast of Scotland and it was been particularly cold the last few nights and we are in the middle of May. What are your thoughts?|
ANSWER: Gooseberries do produce good fruit in the cooler, UK weather, they don't thrive in warm climates.
There are two key reasons for fruits dropping off. The first is that pollination has failed to some degree. Fruits form initially but they just drop off if that is the cause. Very cold weather and / or high winds are the most probable cause. The insects simply are not about in sufficient numbers.
The second reason for fruit drop is dry soil. If there are strong winds, the surface soil can quickly dry out even though the soil below remains damp. Gooseberries need a good supply of water.
The easiest way to help is to mulch to a depth of a couple of inches all around the plant. This will reduce significantly evaporation from the soil surface. Well rooted manure is good. Or line the coil with cardboard with a good topping of woodchip / shrub cuttings / garden compost.
ANSWER: I've definitely not heard of that. Some crops like rhubarb and asparagus should not be harvested in the first year but it's fine to harvest gooseberries in their first year.
ANSWER: I would prune your gooseberry bushes first then move them, ideally, a couple of weeks later. Do both when they are dormant, mid December to end February.
ANSWER: I would prune back to good healthy wood. It is possible they will regenerate next year but it's much more likely that whatever is wrong with them will simply spread if you don't prune away the dead wood.
ANSWER: It's never easy to decide to dig up and throw away a plant. In your case, I probably would after two bad seasons. If you plant a new gooseberry, don't plant it in the same position.
Now fill an empty spray gun container (old empty bug spray you kept) and spray liberally on your gooseberries at first time sawfly is seen in April onwards. Don't spray when you have fruits as Foxglove is extremely poisonous, but use soapy water instead to drown them!
I pruned it back late Summer after fruiting and wretched sawfly decimated all the foliage again. I'm hoping to revive it as I don't want to buy another, but it's not looking good. My other plant Hinnonmaki Yellow thrived again, but yields are low. Are these gooseberries prone to viruses?
ANSWER: Gooseberry plants can suffer from viral problems but it's not especially common. The only advice I can suggest is they always do best in the sunniest position of a garden.
ANSWER: At the moment I wouldn't be concerned, if grown from a very small seedling. Next year wouldn't be an unusual period of time for it to begin fruiting. I would prune it this winter as described above.
I am assuming you are in the UK? To encourage it to produce fruit next year, follow the feeding instructions for container grown plants as described above. Avoid feeding your plant with general purpose fertiliser which will be too high in nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages leafy green green growth at the expense of fruit.
ANSWER: Gooseberry bushes produce fruit well for 15 to 20 years depending on the variety and growing conditions. After that they will decline slowly and that is what you are seeing. I would plant a new bush this autumn and it should crop well after three years.
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