Thursday, July 28, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Gooseberries

Green Gooseberries!

Common Name: Gooseberry
Scientific Name: Ribes uva-crispa
Family: Grossulariaceae

Thorny member of the Ribes genus (includes currants, jostaberries, worchesterberry).
Produces large, sweet, varigated berries (in shades of red and green most common, but white, yellow, purple, and almost black are available), on a single trunk with multiple stems, may form a thicket or clump via runners.

Personal Note:
I LOVE gooseberries!  Unfortunately, they are not readily available in the U.S.  Fortunately, I've had the chance to travel frequently through Europe in the late spring through summer when gooseberries can be found all over the place.  To me, they have a tropical sweet-tart flavor, somewhat of a cross between a grape and a raspberry... although there are a variety of flavors, and they all really just taste like gooseberries!.  They have a tart, thick skin and a very soft flesh full of edible seeds that range from hardly noticeable to slightly crunchy.  Delicious!  

A yellow variety of Gooseberry.

Developed in Europe, gooseberries are typically considered an English fruit.  They were likely brought to England in the 13th Century (based on a bill of purchase from France).  They were developed extensively over the next few centuries.  Gooseberries were brought to the "colonies" of America with the earliest settlers.  However, in 1920 federal law restricted growing these plants since gooseberries can potentially spread white pine blister rust; this federal ban was lifted in 1966.  Now the restrictions are managed state by state.  Some states allow gooseberry cultivation and others do not.  This federal ban is what is likely to blame for the obscurity of gooseberries in the U.S.

The name "goose" berry may come from a corruption of the German word Krausberre.
It may come from the fact that a savory-sweet sauce was made with these berries and served with goose.

Red Gooseberries

Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating
  • Baking in desserts (pies, fools, crumbles)
  • Drying
  • Jams and preserves
  • Pickled
  • Added to flavor fresh fruit drinks and sodas
  • Sauces (both sweet and savory)
  • Wines
  • Teas

Secondary Uses:
  • Thorny thicket of stems is a great small bird and insect habitat.
  • Gooseberry flowers are considered a general nectar provider to insects.
  • Hummingbirds can collect nectar from Gooseberry flowers.

Yield: 9 lbs (4 kg) / 4-6 quarts (4-6 liters) annually if in full sun
Harvesting: May-August. Fruits can be pea-sized to almost golf-ball sized depending on the cultivar
Storage: Fresh fruits last 1-2 weeks in a cool place

An almost black cultivar of Gooseberry.

USDA Cold Hardiness Zone: 3-7 (depends on the variety)
AHS Heat Zone: 7-1 (depends on the variety)
Sunset Zone: Extremely variable (depends on the variety)
Chill Requirement: 800-1,500 hours or units (depends on the variety)

Plant Type: Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer

Cultivars/Varieties: Many cultivars available.  Sample them first to make sure you like the flavor.
Pollination: Self-fertile.  Usually by bees.
Flowering: Spring flowering, usually tolerant of frost

Life Span:
  • Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
  • Years to Maximum Bearing: 2-3 years
  • Years of Useful Life: up to 25 years

The tiny Gooseberry flower.

Size: 3-5' (1-1.5 meters) high and wide
Roots: Suckering
Growth Rate: Medium

An orange Gooseberry variety.
Don't worry, the hairs on the fruit are soft.  The thorns are on the stems.

Light: Full Sun (preferable)
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Medium
pH: 5.1 - 7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:
  • This is a heavy cropping plant and therefore requires higher levels of nutrients to fruit well.
  • Gooseberries can tolerate a wide variety of soil and light conditions.
  • Mildew can be a significant problem.  Try to choose mildew resistant varieties if possible. 
  • Gooseberries tend to grow best in locations with cool and moist summers, but can be grown with success in other areas with the right cultivar.

Propagation: Usually from hardwood cuttings in late autumn.  Needs 13 weeks of stratification.

There are many ways of more intensively managing gooseberry plants.  If you plan on keeping only one or two bushes, then I would recommend looking more into the specifics of more intensive management and pruning.  Since I plan on keeping gooseberries as a part of a Food Forest Garden, where I will allow a more "natural" growth pattern and take less fruit per plant in return for lower maintenance, an occasional pruning may return will likely be all I do to return a non-fruiting plant to a fruiting one.  

The characteristic thorn at the base of each fruit.

  • Thorns... ouch!  Care needs to be taken when harvesting the fruit.  It is well worth it!
  • Due to the fact that gooseberries (and currants) are potential hosts for white pine blister rust (which damages white pines), some areas in the U.S. do not allow gooseberries.  Check your local regulations.

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