Growing soft fruit, like raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries in your own garden is a wonderful thing – it’s not too complicated, the results are delicious, there are savings to be had after a bit of initial investment and you have a wonderful supply of delicious fruits that aren’t always easily available.
We absolutely love gooseberries, but they are, sadly, very hard to find in the shops, so it was a no-brainer to start buying gooseberry bushes a few years back. If you’d like to have a go at growing gooseberries, here are some hints and tips.
Not just the green hairy ones…
If you have rather unpleasant memories of rock hard, very sour and rather hairy fruit, growing on super-spiky branches, think again. There is more than one type of gooseberry. Pax (which has very few thorns) and Hinnonmaki Red are both dessert gooseberries that you can eat straight from the bush (they’re obviously great to make jam, preserves, crumbles, pies etc.). These are the ones that we grow – they are just beginning to ripen into beautiful red fruits, after the lovely sunny weather we have had.
But we love the green ones too, and will be buying a couple of Invicta bushes in November, mainly because we have recently discovered how absolutely delicious they are paired with strawberries.
A heavenly match – gooseberries and strawberries
We have tried this amazing strawberry and gooseberry crumble recipe and made jam with a brilliant recipe from Eastbourne allotments (I used ordinary sugar rather than jam sugar as specified, and still got an excellent set – it produces a super bright red strawberry jam).
But the pièce de résistance was this recipe for Strawberry and Gooseberry Summer Pudding, which we had for lunch today. We used homegrown strawberries too.
Because we have a glut of strawberries, and probably as much strawberry jam as we can eat in a year already, I have been making and freezing strawberry and gooseberry compote, that I am going to use to make more summer puddings and crumbles later in the Here’s my quick recipe:
Gooseberry and Strawberry Compote
- 250g of green gooseberries, topped and tailed
- 150g strawberries, hulled
- 75g sugar
- zest of a lemon
- Preheat the oven to 180C (Gas 4) whilst you are preparing the fruit.
- Wash the prepared fruit and then put it in a baking dish with the sugar and lemon zest.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then give the mixture a stir, and back for a further 15-20 minutes, until the gooseberries are soft.
You can double the amounts if you have loads of fruit – but don’t double the lemon zest, just use the same amount.
More gooseberry recipes
I’ve blogged some of gooseberry recipes – here they are:
There’s also this great article in the Daily Telegraph (the only saving grace of the DT is it’s food writing, which is just excellent) with a lovely list of the most delicious looking gooseberry recipes – if that doesn’t tempt you to buy a couple of bushes, I don’t know what will!
General tips for growing gooseberries
Here’s an excellent article at Garden Focusesd about growing gooseberries – it’s so thorough and covers every eventuality, so I won’t go into huge detail here, but just share my experience. We grow our gooseberries in large plastic plant pots (I have repotted into larger pots as the plants have grown), in good quality compost, which works extremely well because it is so flexible in a small garden, and we have such heavy soil (and they have moved house twice!). In the early spring I mulch the bushes, and I feed them monthly with a dilute tomato feed during spring and summer. In the winter I just prune out old branches, damaged branches, and any growth in the centre of the bush to keep the branches well-spaced – this reduces the chance of fungal diseases and makes the berries easier to pick. The other advantage of growing gooseberries in containers is that it makes it easier to defeat the enemy!
Defeating gooseberry pests
In my garden, the gooseberry harvest is always in great peril – threatened by the gooseberry sawfly and wood pigeons… No doubt you will have the same problem!
The gooseberry sawfly (here are some pictures at the RHS) lays its eggs in the soil round the base of the bushes, and the caterpillars, when they hatch, climb up through the centre of the bush, eating leaves as they go. And they eat A LOT! They can defoliate a bush in a few days, which although it doesn’t effect the fruit in the current year, will definitely cause a smaller harvest in future years and can eventually kill a bush. You can obviously use pesticides (ugh) or nematodes (a biological control), which I gather are effective, but expensive. The most effective method though, is to pick the caterpillars off the bushes as the start to appear. You need to look at the centre of the bush, on the lower branches first, and just pick and squish (sorry).
Because I read that the sawfly eggs are in the soil round the bush, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I grow my gooseberries in containers, and in the very early spring, I scrape a couple of inches of soil away from the top of the pots (being careful not to damage the roots), and replace it with fresh compost and a mulch. This has massively reduced my sawfly problem – and combined with regular checks for caterpillars, has been very effective.
Last year’s gooseberry harvest was eaten by a pair of wood pigeons virtually overnight, so this year I invested in a proper fruit cage from Harrod Horticultural. My garden looks a bit like Fort Knox, but I am protecting the gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants from all the winged thieves:
This is the system that I bought – it’s 1.2m high, 1m wide and 3.5m long – it comes complete with netting and ground fixings and cost me just under £90. Worth every penny when I see the sad longing looks on the faces of the wood pigeons, but you can make cages yourself with bamboo and netting, or just throw netting over the top of the bushes. The main thing is to make sure insects can still get in to pollinate the flowers – so the nets do not go over the bushes until the tiny fruits are visible.
I really hope I have tempted you to have a go at growing some delicious gooseberries – it is so satisfying to eat your own home-grown harvest. I’d love to hear your experience of growing other varieties of soft fruit. I have blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants too – what works for you?