Ribes Family: Uva-Crispa

Uva Crispa? Big, juicy, tart but so sweet when it’s the right time, prickly but pretty too… Gooseberries – the real ones, not cape! I’m a big fan of these delicious berries, and as with the other family members, they grow well in conditions few food plants relish.

Gooseberries hail from colder climates and are hardy to about -10ºC. They like cool summers and need a decent amount of chill in winter. In turn, they dislike hot winds and draughts. So it’s the perfect bush to fill that empty gap in semi-shade, exposed to the southerly and completely shaded in winter!

Of course, they do need some sun, and they do need a good amount of nutrients in the soil. But over all, they are much more forgiving. They do fine on heavy clay, while sand is much trickier as it dries out easily. The size of a mature bush is a good meter across, so leave it enough space and don’t plant it where you might get snagged on the spines! It’s important to be able to reach everywhere to prune the bush and keep it open, otherwise harvest can become a bloody affair.

The berries ripen from November onwards, and for my bush it has depended a lot on the weather during spring. A warm spring makes the bush flower earlier and also ripen earlier, but only if it’s got enough water and compost. A cold spring delays it all and fruit might not be ready until mid January. But it is definitely an early summer fruit. The berries grow two or three together in a cluster, quite different from the other Ribes. The spines can make it tricky to reach them without scratching yourself, so I recommend a good pruning every winter when the leaves have fallen.

Pruning can be done many ways – I’ve read at least four different techniques, all being adamant it’s the Best And Only Way… My take on it is to simply use common sense and always remember what you shouldn’t do.

First think of how your bush grows: Many stems from the ground, or one stem with branches coming off it? Or trained as a cordon? In this case just follow cordon pruning instructions. Keep it to the form it has: cut a few stems off as close to the ground as possible, or cut a few branches close to the stem (maybe one out of six). Cut, in order of priority, first the oldest of two branches that cross or rub, then any damaged stems/branches, then any branch drooping very low or touching the ground, and then any branch which still stops you from getting easy access to the interior of the bush (where next year’s harvest will be).

Don’t:

  • Cut it equally back everywhere – you won’t get much fruit next year
  • Cut all side branches – it needs to expand to the sides (except cordon)
  • Break any branch – always leave a clean cut that is easy to heal
  • Leave the branches under the bush – compost them along with last year’s leaves
  • Cut too much – it fruits on branches that are 1-4 years old so you don’t want to cut more than a fifth of the plant
  • Cut far from a junction of branch and stem – you want to place the cut as close to the favoured branch as possible, without hurting it

Hope you find a good space for a Ribes Uva-Crispa, or get motivated to prune it if you already have one! The berries are delicious and can be used both in sweet and savoury dishes, as well as straight from the bush of course!

In a food forest, they are excellent companions to apple and pear trees, and happy to grow in their semi shade, on the drip line. If you plant all at the same time, make sure you space them right and have enough support species around. We can talk more of our food forest experiences and plans at the Food Forest Gathering 21st Mayjoin the FB event to stay in the loop!

 

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