Growing and eating gooseberries

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.

Growing and eating delicious gooseberries - some hints, tips and ideas on growing and eating this delicious soft fruit, with recipes too

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.

Hinnonmaki red gooseberries beginning to ripen - click through for hints and tips on growing and eating delicious gooseberries

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.

Strawberries and gooseberries make a great combination for delicious desserts - click through for hints on growing and cooking gooseberries.

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

  • Servings: enough for a 4-person crumble or summer pudding
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 250g of green gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 150g strawberries, hulled
  • 75g sugar
  • zest of a lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (Gas 4) whilst you are preparing the fruit.
  2. Wash the prepared fruit and then put it in a baking dish with the sugar and lemon zest.
  3. 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!

Gooseberry sawflies

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.

Birds

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:

Fruit cage protecting gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants in my vegetable garden

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?

Sewing salad greens in pots and containers

I couldn’t really not do some work in my veggie garden today – it has been blissfully hot and sunny, and we have to make the most of it. Sadly I did have to pop to my Studio at Spode Works for a bit in the morning, and I was really impressed by the very healthy lettuces in the beautiful container garden which has been created by Studio artists Su and Sally, outside the studio entrance.

Lettuces in the Spode Works Studio garden

Don’t they look luscious?

Seeing these beautiful homegrown greens reminded me of the news story about bagged salad this week – did you see it? Apparently, about 40% of the bagged salad that we buy in the UK goes in the bin. I’m not really surprised by that – they are generally pretty disappointing in taste, flavour and texture, and go off so quickly – and there always seems to be a slimy bit when you first open the bag. Ugh….

Growing salad greens is so easy… 

What does surprise me though is that more people don’t grow their own lettuce and salad leaves, especially in the summer, it’s so easy.

In the midst of being smug about people throwing salad away, I realised I hadn’t actually planted any of my own this year. So that was the job for late afternoon in the vegetable garden. I like to grow lettuce and salad leaves in small containers as well as in the main veggie garden – it means there is more space available, which means I can plant a few seeds every couple of weeks or so over the summer season, and avoid getting loads of leaves all at once. I also like to plant a really nice variety of leaves for colour and flavour, and so I can use them both raw and cooked.

Picture showing a couple of pots being used to plant lettuce and salad green seeds

So today I’ve put in some mâche, which is the fancy French name for lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, and some Indian mustard greens, which have a lovely spicy flavour and are great in curries too.

I just used an ordinary peat-free compost, with some water retaining crystals so I don’t have to water them quite so often. The good thing about using these small pots is that I can move them out of the full sun on a day like today, so there’s less risk that they will bolt and run to seed very quickly.

Picture of a plant label made using a whittled stick

The other trick I picked up from Su was to whittle (oh so exciting to use that word in a blog post) a little stick to use as a plant marker! Fun to do and very economical and eco-friendly.

Hope you have been enjoying some sunny times too today.

Book Review and Giveaway: Build a Better Vegetable Garden

build-a-better-vegetable-gardenAt this time of year my thoughts turn to planning for the veggie garden for the upcoming growing season. I love a cosy evening looking at ideas on my Pinterest gardening board, looking at seed catalogues and making ambitious plans. What I always have to keep in mind is that our budget is limited, so that’s why I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to review Build a Better Vegetable Garden – 30 DIY Projects to Improve your Harvest by Joyce Russell with photographs by Ben Russell (published by Frances Lincoln). It’s full of ideas to create garden structures, supports, containers, beds and loads more too – all of which can be made without too much outlay (especially if you already have some of the the DIY tools).

My ambition this year is to work on our fruit garden. The current arrangements for our gooseberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries were put together as a ‘temporary’ measure about 5 years ago, and are quickly becoming unsustainable! I am so fed up of the battle with our resident wood pigeons over my gooseberry harvest… and don’t get me started on my rage with the squirrels who pick a lovely luscious strawberry, eat half, then throw the rest away! So I am excited to see that there are simple, inexpensive, projects for a fruit cage, plus a project to make post and wire supports for raspberries.

We also plan to plant dwarf apple trees – so I was excited to see this drying cabinet project:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-drying-cabinet

Other projects that got me interested include a simple A-shaped bean frame, which look so much more elegant, practical and sturdy than my wobbly garden cane structures:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-bean-frame

I was also excited to see ideas for creating a cold frame and a covered hot bed plus projects to create raised beds, all kinds of planters, a garden caddy, a boot cleaner, troughs for grow bags and loads more.

You can start simple with a leaf compost bin or maybe some simple cloches:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-leaf-heap

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-cloche

Then move onto the trickier projects like these fabulous slug-proof salad beds – which have the advantage of being able to be moved nearer to the house later on in the growing season. I even have a supply of old wellies to use:

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-slug-proof-beds

I have done garden DIY projects before (putting decking in our first garden in London was a wild introduction!), but it has been a long time, so I am glad to see that there are two excellent sections on tools, materials and safety. If you are a total beginner, I think you could feel pretty confident in the advice given here. The added bonus is all the brilliant gardening tips – this feels like real value for money!

As you can see from some of the photos I have included here, each project has a difficulty grading, so you can start with something achievable, and then work your way up to something a bit trickier when you have the confidence.. And there’s also an indication of how long each project will take to complete (although, knowing me and my ability to drill holes in the wrong places – did I mention that decking in London?) I need to add on a couple of hours to every project, just to make sure!

build-a-better-vegetable-garden-shed-fit-out

My favourite project is this fabulous shed shelving and hanging system. Just need a shed to put it in…

Giveaway

I have a copy of this fab book to giveaway. Just leave a comment on this post, maybe telling me what your garden plans are this year, or, as usual, I don’t mind a ‘pick me’. I am happy to post the book anywhere in the world, but bear in mind some of the gardening information might not be quite right for your climate! Please leave your comment before 9pm on Friday 13th January to be in with a chance of winning.

Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell, photography by Ben Russell, is published by Frances Lincoln (£16.99)