I noticed this morning that my soft fruit bushes weren’t quite as picked clean as they usually are at this time of year, much to my delight it turns out that my gooseberries have made it to ripeness without the birds and the caterpillars stripping it long before.
As Alys Fowler mentioned the other day, this is Gooseberry season, but I was somewhat dubious until I’d actually tasted a fresh, ripe, gooseberry that was actually sweet.
Whilst I would love to write a detailed guide as to how best to grow gooseberries and red and black currants, I actually abuse my plants quite badly. I grow mine in medium sized pots, weed and top dress with fresh compost once a year and generally remember to feed them every other month or so. I do have a nice south-east facing corner between two brick walls which captures, retains and releases the summer’s heat wonderfully, but I think my real secret to success is keeping them out of sight of the birds.
The traditional approach to keeping the birds out of one’s soft fruit is to net them, which of course leads to the fun of building a cage to support the net, however, I got in trouble the last time I tried that for catching baby birds who had a go anyway and got caught up. You can, however, be more subtle, placing the bushes such that they’re screened from view by other nearby plants but without completely shading them. You can also selectively pinch out some of the racemes of fruit that are lower down the branches, this will strengthen the remaining fruits towards the top of the branches, much nearer the larger leaves.
Bird’s eye view:
My ankle’s eye view:
Fruits such as summer raspberries and blackcurrants fruit on 1 year old growth, so it’s important to carefully prune to keep the shoots young and strong. The excellent RHS Big Book of Everything suggests that the fruited growth is pruned back hard for the bush’s first 2 or 3 winters to get a strong, well branching, structure, which you can then train into an appropriate shape, either bush or cordon.
For now, I’m going to freeze the majority of my crop, although I might just keep a few handfuls by to have over my muesli. Most soft fruits, from bushes or canes, such as raspberries, gooseberries, red and black currants etc. are easiest to preserve by freezing, although you can make some very nice jellies out of the currants. More on that when my blackcurrants ripen.