The unmistakeable flavour of the English Gooseberry is slowly being lost from our collective consciense. Hardly ever available to buy in the shops, Goosbeery Crumble, Gooseberry fruit fool and Gooseberry cobbler used to be commonplace dishes. Now maybe you can buy a jar of jam if you are lucky.
Gooseberries are easy to grow and are happy with just part sun if need be. Hardy everywhere, they used to be martyrs to mildew but with the advent of mildew resistant varieties even this problem can be avoided.
A normal gooseberry bush will need around 5' in which to grow. This method brings the most abundant crops. Ther are two alternatives as well.
Gooseberries as cordons
An easy way to grow Gooseberries is a a cordon - just one straight stem which can be conveniently tucked in near a wall or grown up a stout cane or small stake. A double cordon is the same except it has two stems in a 'V' shape. Another advantage, especially if growing the older varieties, is that mildew is less rife because the air circulation around the foliage and fruits is better.
Gooseberries as half standards
This is a growing form that has exploded in popularity in recent years. A standrard [or half-standard as they are sometimes known] has the appearance and form of a standard rose. The gooseberry 'bush' is grafted onto a clear stem, usually at around 3.5' feet. These make for very easy harvesting with no bending, and, if it is necessary to incorporate your gooseberries into the formal or flower garden area, then this is the best choice because they at least have some shapely, prim appeal. Lets face it Gooseberries aren;t normally the most glamorous of our fruiting plants!
Cultivation hints for Gooseberries
Gooseberries will succeed in most soils, and rotted compost added before planting is beneficial, mulch each Spring to maintain fertility. Plant to same depth as lifted at the nursery. Space 5ft between bushes, single cordons 1 foot, double cordons 2 feet, triple cordons 3 feet apart down the row.
PRUNING. As birds can disbud the bushes delay pruning until the Spring. Cut the leaders back by half to one third, always an upward facing bud, this will build up strong branches. Lateral (side) shoots can be trimmed as required with the main objective being to form an open centre for easy picking and allowing free circulation of air to reduce the risk of mildew.
FEEDING. Sulphate of Potash in early Spring (February) at 2oz per bush, or a general high potash fertilizer. Sulphate of Ammonia can be used to promote growth if required but too much Nitrogen can cause soft growth and increase the risk of mildew, so only use as required.
Main pests and diseases
Only really two to worry about. The aforementioned powdery mildew is almost certain to attack the older varieties. It is more prevalent in wet summers. Control with a fungicide such as dithane.
You may suddenly find your gooseberry bushes simply crawling with a mass of small spotted caterpillars. This is the sawfly larvae. Pick off by hand and diestroy and/or spray with an insecticide. These mini beasts seem to appear from nowhere and can strip a bush of it;s foliage in double quick time.
Good milew resistant varieties of Gooseberry
These may still get a little from time to time, during bad years but are largely mildew-free.
Good dessert Gooseberries
Some Gooseberry varieties are sweet enough to eat straight from the bush. These are they!
Good culinary Gooseberries
And finally.... to prevent the air going 'blue' when you attempt to harvest your bounty....
A thornless Gooseberry!
Pax. Red fruits - few or no prickles!!