Blackcurrants have traditionally been used more in puddings, crumbles and jams than for fresh. Winterwood is working on breeding new varieties that are more acceptable to eat fresh as most current commercially grown varieties are very sharp to taste and need sugar added if used fresh in desserts.
Blackcurrants are packed full of Vitamin C and up there with Blueberries in terms of Antioxidant / Anthocyanin content. The high Anthocyanin content is associate with the dark pigments in the skin – all soft fruits that are rich in Blue, Black or Red are also rich in Anthocyanins – the darker the colour is a general indication of higher Anthocyanins.
Varieties of Blackcurrant
The table below lists some other varieties recommended by GardenAction.
|Ben Gairn||Early||Resistant to most diseases affecting blackcurrants including Reversion virus. One of the earliest varieties to fruit , it has medium sized berries with a good taste.|
|Ben Hope||Mid-season||Resistant to most foliar diseases and also to bigbud. This variety grows taller than most blackcurrants but it has the best flavour of all varieties. Needs a sheltered position.|
|Ben Lomond||Mid-season||A mid season variety that has been one of the most widely planted commercial varieties in recent times. It is a consistent producer on a wide variety of soils.|
|Ben Connan||Early||An early variety producing large shiny fruits.|
|Ben Tirran||One of the latest commercially grown varieties. Fruit keeping quality is one of the best of all varieties. Berries are medium in size and fewer per strig than average. The fruit is also difficult to pick as the strigs are close to the main wood of the plant, and due to the medium size and few berries per strig it takes longer to fill up a tray. The strig is however a lovely green colour that makes the overall appearance pleasing.|
Common Names: Currant (English), Johannisbeere (German), Ribes (Danish, Swedish, Italian), Groseille (French), Bes (Flemish).
The English word ‘currant’ has been used for this fruit only since 1550, taken from the fruit’s resemblance to the dried currants of Greece, raisins made from a small seedless grape. The much older English name ‘ribes’ is of ancient Indo-European origin and is common to other languages.
Species: Red, pink and white currants belong to three European species (Ribes rubrum, R. petraeum, R. sativum). Black currants are related to European (R. nigrum) and Asian (R. ussuriense) species.
Related Species: Gooseberry (Ribes grossularia, R. hirtellum), Buffalo Currant (R. aureum), Jostaberry (R. nigrum X hirtellum).
Adaptation: Currants grow best in summer humid, cool regions. About 1500 + hours of winter chilling is required and some varieties require over 2000 hours below 7C. Some areas of the UK with the increase of global warning are now too warm to grow some of the varieties that were commonly grown in the past e.g. Ben Tirran.
Site and Soil For Blackcurrants
Blackcurrants are more tolerant than many fruits of their site and soil conditions. What they do like though is a moist soil, but not water logged. They need the moisture for the fruits to develop. This is one reason why they do well in less dry parts of the UK.
Their ideal site is in full sun, but the effect of partial shade does them little harm. Avoid frost-pockets, their flowers can be damaged by a late frost which will of course result in a lower yield of fruit.
Their ideal soil is a rich well-drained soil which will not dry out. They prefer a slightly acidic soil – around pH 6 to 6.5 (click here for more details on soil acidity). They will grow well however on most normal soils.
Blackcurrant bushes are available in pots or bare-rooted from garden centres or come bare-rooted through the post.
Dig the soil to a spade’s depth a couple of month’s before planting – this will allow the soil to settle. Add as much well-rotted compost as is available and dig it in well. Where compost is not available, add a good handful or so per square metre (yard) of bonemeal or any other long lasting fertiliser.
The best time to plant blackcurrant bushes is early winter, mid-November time is good. They can however be planted any time up to mid-March as long as the soil is not water-logged or frozen. The plants should be spaced about 1.8m (6ft) apart. Dig a hole wide enough to take the roots without cramping them.
The depth of planting is quite important with blackberries. The bushes naturally produces a large number of stems from just below ground level (unlike red and white currants). To encourage this growth, plant the bushes roughly 5cm (2in) deeper than they were in the pot or at the nursery if bare-rooted. Fill around the roots with soil and firm it down with your foot.
When planted, trim every shoot to within two buds above soil level. This may sound drastic, because it will result in the plant only being about 5cm (2in) high. However, it will encourage a strong root system as well as sturdy growth above ground.
Care of Blackcurrants
Watering, weed prevention and pruning are the key requirements for blackcurrants. They will appreciate watering when conditions are dry and especially when the fruits are forming. Keep the weeds at bay to prevent competition for moisture.
An annual mulch of garden compost will make easy work of both if available. Where you have no garden compost, covering the surrounding soil with a weed control fabric will do exactly the same job and will last for many years. Click here to buy your weed control fabric online. A good two handfuls of bonemeal in spring spread around each plant will also do a whole lot of good.
Do not prune the plants in the first winter after planting. In the second and subsequent winters, prune to encourage new growth. Firstly, remove any stems which are damaged, diseased or crossing each other. Then, trim away 20% of the central part of the plant to leave the centre more open. Finally, remove about 15% of the remaining old wood.
Propagating Blackcurrant Bushes
Hardwood cuttings are a great way to create more blackcurrant bushes, because it’s easy, quick and has a very high chance of success. Additionally, it does not require any protection or warmth. Let gardenaction guide you through this process with pictures and sound advice.
The time to propagate the bushes is when the foliage has stopped growing and is beginning to turn brown or falling off. A good time is mid-October although a couple of weeks later is almost as good.
Take cuttings from healthy bushes only – ignore bushes with any signs of disease.
Select a healthy looking stem of ripened (brown not green wood) and cut a 25cm (10in) length.
The cut should be made just below a bud. Pull off all the leaves from the stem being careful not to remove the stem. The result should look like the picture on the right (click picture to enlarge).
Dig a trench about 15cm (6in) deep and incorporate a handful of bonemeal into the removed soil.
Place the cuttings into the trench making sure that at least two buds will remain above the soil surface and that there are four or more buds below the surface. Space the cuttings 20cm (8in) apart (click picture to enlarge).
Fill in around the cuttings with the removed soil, being careful not to damage the buds below or above the soil. Gently firm the soil down around the cutting with your foot.
Water the soil well. It is a good idea to mulch around the cuttings with well-rotted compost to conserve water. ), old carpets are used a mulch.
Leave the cuttings in the ground until October next year then dig them up with as much of their rootball intact as possible. Transplant them to their final positions as if they were bought from a nursery .
Harvesting and Storing Blackcurrants
Blackcurrants are ready for harvest when the fruits are very nearly black. Always try and pick them in dry conditions – wet blackcurrants store very badly and will quickly go mouldy.
If the intention is to store the currants for a few days, it’s bets to pick an entire truss which will keep for longer. Blackcurrants will keep best dry in the fridge and will last for five or six days.
Pests and Diseases
Look at the symptoms to decide which pest or disease is causing you trouble, then click on the ‘Cause’ for details of how to get round the problem.
|Rust||At first, red spots appear on the top of the leaves, followed by yellow spots on the underside of the leaves, eventually turning black.|
|Aphids (green/black fly)||Lots of small black or green insects especially concentrated around tender new shoots.|
|Sawfly||Caterpillars on the leaves. Bush is very quickly stripped of foliage.|
|Mildew||A light grey powdery substance appears mainly on the stems, but spreads to the leaves and possibly the fruit.|
|Big Bud Mite||Round and plump buds rather than the normal long and pointed ones. Leaves around affected buds are distorted.|
|Reversion Disease||In June or July the bush develops abnormal leaves, and the yield of fruit for the rest of the year is very low. It is most easily identified by bright magenta buds instead of the normal grey buds.|
Like most fruit blackcurrants are favourite food to a range of small and often not so small mammals. Birds are a particular problem. Various make shift ways of preventing fruit damage have been concocted over the years but none works as well as a fruit cage.
Select blueberry varieties that are optimal for your growing area. Most types are self fertile and do not need pollination from another variety but if you are planting several plants then it is good idea to mix the varieties. If however you choose say early or late varieties to spread the time of picking, there will be little help with the pollination as they will flower at different times!
Choose a sunny site, and test the soil pH (a test kit can be purchased from any good garden centre). Blueberry plants prefer acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.0. This is more acid than most UK soils and more acidic than your normal soft fruit soils so do not expect the Blueberry plant to do well just because the soil is good for Raspberries or Strawberry plants – it won’t! It is therefore important to check this as it is one of the most common causes for plants not growing. Mix in any organic matter e.g. manure, shredded leaf compost and grass clippings to adjust the pH. Alternatively bark is excellent to mix in to the soil, or blueberries will be quite happy to grow in 100% bark (make sure the vendor has not added any lime to it!) For a very alkaline soil then sulphur is probably the best addition you can make to the soil to bring down the pH quickly. This is difficult to do accurately on a commercial scale, let alone on a small plot for a few plants and you will need 9-12 months to get this right as often more than one application is required, so wherever possible choose the site well in advance or use a higher proportion of brought in material in order to alleviate this problem. If you do want to try sulphur, as a guide for loamy ground that is pH5.5, start with 100g/m2 and monitor the pH every couple of months. Use 200g/m2 if pH 6 to start with. The full effect will not be seen for 6 months but you should get an earlier indication of the effect.
Blueberry roots like oxygen round them, and for this reason the roots sit close to the surface. The soil should not have a high (>5%) clay content as this both blocks the movement of oxygen to the roots, but also if the soil is allowed to get wet and then dries in the sun, the expansion and contraction will break the very fine fibrous blueberry roots that are near the surface as they are not strong enough to withstand such movements of the soil. The plants will be perfectly happy in 100% bark, but this can dry out fairly quickly, so according to the type of soil being mixed, vary the % of organic matter added to give a nice fibrous loose consistency that does not get water logged when watered or conversely dries out with a few days of sunshine. Blueberries like similar soils to Rhododendrons if you are more familiar with growing those species.
Polytunnel or Greenhouse
Blueberries grow well under cover even though they are naturally a woodland species, being related to Bilberries, Cranberries and Lingonberries. There is an increased danger of the roots drying out, so a mulch to reduce evaporation and give the correct environment around the upper root zone becomes more important.
This depends on the size of the plant, but assuming plant is 30-90cm (1-3’) tall, dig a hole about 60cm (2’) deep and the same in width for each blueberry plant. Space the holes around 1m (3’) from each other in the row, and if you are planting more than one row, space no closer than 2.5m across the row. If the soil is compact in the bottom of the whole then loosen this with a fork as well. Fill 30cm of each hole back up with pine bark or a suitable Rhododendron type compost mix then plant the plant. If the plant is pot bound i.e. the roots are compact and turning round in a circle when tipped out the previous growing container, then spend a few minutes breaking up the outside of the clump to allow plenty of surface area of loose material contact with the roots. Don’t worry if this means breaking the roots as this is preferable to planting a pot bound plant, as this plant will otherwise sit in the new location and probably not show much sign of growth for at least the first year, and may be permanently stunted, while it gets used to its new surroundings. Commercially there is a small risk of infection to these broken roots but this is very unlikely to be a factor in non commercial fields.
Back fill with more bark or compost mix. Concentrate on ensuring that the area round the plant is very loose fibrous material of the correct pH as either will give problems if not correct. Make sure that the crown of the plant is at ground level i.e. don’t plant deeper or shallower than the plant was before being planted. Finally place a 75-100mm thick layer of pine bark or other organic matter in a 1m diameter circle around each plant (or 1m wide if several plants together running down a row). This will serve two purposes, the first is to suppress weed growth and the second is to maintain a damp zone near the surface where the roots prefer to grow. Move the bark away from the area of 3-5cm around the stem of the plant to maintain the planting depth, but in the case of pine bark or anything very loose this is less of an issue as air will be circulating through the mixture.
Blueberries can also be grown in pots, and this has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that the cost of getting perfect soil mix is reduced and more easily controlled. The downside is that the pot is more prone to drying out if not managed well, and the roots can become pot bound if not potted on at the correct time. A typical 1 year old 30cm high plant will need a 1l pot and then transferring to a 5L pot for 2nd year then a 20L pot for the 3rd year and a 40l pot thereafter, so a very large pot is required after the first 2-3 years (unless of course you do not follow the other recommendations in this advice, in which case the plant may never grow higher than when you planted it!)
Immediately after planting you must decide if the plant needs trimming back or not. Do not be afraid to trim the plant back to 30-50cm tall as the branches on the plant when you plant it are not going to give you anything other than the odd berry in the first year and the trimming will both stimulate new growth and also reduce any transplant shock. It’s highly recommended that you should concentrate on getting the plant growing in the first year in order to maximise the wood on the plant to bear fruit the year after. Obviously always cut off any dead or broken branches and also any that look like they are going to touch the ground and also any very spindly growth should be removed at ground level.
Water blueberry plants generously immediately after they are set in the ground. Continue to water the plants so the interface layer at the bottom of the mulch layer remains damp. Monitor this 2-3 times per week in the first couple of weeks to build up a picture of how often the watering will be required as this will depend completely on the location and soil. Commercially on a sandy soil with modern automatic fertigation equipment, plants might be watered up to 7 times a day in the summer with a small amount of feed with all applications. If the soil is heavier then once per day in the summer is the norm. In a non commercial or manual environment this is unlikely to be achievable so compromises must be made. Certainly watering less than weekly in the summer will affect the plants
Little and often is the preferred approach and if a fertigation system is not in place then use slow release fertilisers where possible. The types and amounts of fertilisers to use are far too big a subject for this quick guide, and you have no time to research this further yourselves, then a monthly application rhododendron fertilizer will do the trick. Take care that any granular fertiliser applied does not touch the stem of the plant. Blueberry roots generally grow out in an area of around 70-80cm from the stem, and the best fibrous roots will be only a few cm under the surface, and if you have followed the above instructions then these roots will be thickest along the interface layer between the underside of the mulch and the top of the soil. After say one year in the ground, a measure of a healthy plant is that you should be able to grab handfuls of this root 5-8cm under the surface about 30-40cm away from the plant and these roots should look fibrous and white in a solid matt as the plants get older.
Apply a 5-7cm layer of pine bark or organic matter around the blueberry plants in early spring every year. Keep this mulch topped up as required in order to maintain a nice damp layer at the root interface layer and also to keep weeds suppressed. Do not allow weeds to grow within 60-90cm of the plant stem as they will compete with the plant for nutrients and the larger you allow them to grow, could disrupt the plant root system when pulled out and it is also good to keep air moving round the plant, especially at bloom – fruiting time to minimise the risk of botrytis (mould).
Again a subject in its own right and this alone code take up a small book, but the most important thing is to know to prune EVERY year and the time to prune is any time during the winter once the plants are dormant. There are some lower chill types that are grown in warmer climates that you may read about as being pruned in the summer (these are known as Southern HighBush types – often abbreviated to SHB), but disregard anything you see like this as the plants that grow in the UK are Northern HighBush (NHB) varieties such as ‘Bluecrop’ and these require winter pruning.
Pests and Diseases
This quick introduction will not deal with this in any detail so research this on the web. Blueberries however are remarkably resilient to many of the common problems that are associated with other soft fruits, but they do come with a list of their own things to contend with! Commercially Blueberries are treated for pests probably less than any other fruit and so you are unlikely to have any issues with pests. Look out for aphis in the spring and treat in the normal way if they become an issue, you do not need to worry about the odd one or two as you should not need to worry about them being a vector of viruses in the UK. Blueberry specific pests include thrips which are becoming one of the most serious commercial pests commercially, and leaf midge (although this is usually only minor damage) and although many pests inflict minor damage this is usually not worth treating. As a general point, if the plant does not look well or just simply refuses to grow, the roots are the first place to look to see if they are healthy. Look for over watering or under watering signs, signs of roots being eaten by Chaffer grubs or
Birds can be a localized issue, in which case the only solution is to cover the plants in netting. If you do this, then use a wide mesh net so that air can freely flow through the plant and also there is no build up in humidity. Cover from first blue fruit and remove when you have harvested all that you want. Do not make obvious mistakes and cover with a finer net at flowering stage as otherwise the pollination will not be great!
You may be frustrated to know that Blueberry plants grow like weeds if in the right environment, but paradoxically they are however extremely fussy about where they grow – a lot more so than other soft fruit plants. Your plant is probably going to do very well or look like it’s trying to emulate a poor looking bonzi plant – rarely in-between! The UK climate is not the best for Blueberries but don’t let this put you off, just be aware of the extra care you will need to give – an analogy is that Grapes grow well in the South of France but are increasingly grown in the UK as the weather seems to be progressively getting warmer. Blueberries, like grapes, need a nice long period of warm weather to maximize the flavour of the berries, so don’t be afraid to let the berries hang for a while after they turn blue. If you find you need to pick them the nanosecond they go blue to get there before the birds, then make the effort to cover with some netting as a shame to get so close to the perfect berry. Lastly your plant will last as long as you want to keep it – there are commercial fields that are well over 30 years old in Poland and still going well. A typical NHB plant will take 6 years in the UK to get to full cropping potential, with first fruit in the 2nd year so be patient and concentrate on getting the vegetative growth in the early years.
Good luck with your growing, there is a wealth of information on the net about how to grow Blueberries, but if you follow the basics of the guidance above, you will be well on the way to having some of your very own superfood to eat. If your first few plants do well, the blueberries freeze extremely well and lose very little of their goodness when frozen, so don’t be afraid to plant some more and any surplus will be a welcome healthy addition to the freezer. Only buy from reputable sources as often varieties that growers do not want any more end up in garden nurseries. This is not always bad as can mean a good deal on some genuinely surplus plants but be careful. If the seller does not know the variety then not a good sign! If they do tell you a variety name then make sure they write it on the invoice as well, as plants all look very similar when young and less scrupulous sellers will strangely always have the variety that you are looking for!
Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, sand and a growing season that stretches from April to November.
There are probably as many varieties of cranberries as there are varieties of apples, but the differences between cranberry varieties are subtle. Cranberry varieties differ by size, color and keeping quality of berry, average yields, time of ripening, hardiness and suitability of the vine to certain climates.
Once a suitable marsh has been chosen, a ditch is dug around the perimeter to lower the water level. Trees are cut, and the surface vegetation is pushed into rows. These rows are shaped into the dikes that surround each cranberry bed. Dikes make it possible to flood each bed individually and also provide vehicle access. Ditches are then dug around the perimeter of each bed as well as down the center. A system of reservoirs, dams and flow gates is required to manage water. Once the beds are level, a thick layer of sand may be spread out on the surface. After the irrigation system is installed, the bed is ready for planting.
Planting is done in the spring. A suitable variety is selected and an existing bed with that variety is pruned. It will be two years before the pruned bed will produce a crop again. The cuttings are then taken, chopped into smaller segments, and spread out evenly on a bed that has been prepared for planting. They are then pressed down into the soil and watered regularly. They immediately send out roots, but it will be five years before they will produce a full crop. If well cared for, cranberry vines can continue to produce indefinitely. There are cranberry marshes that have been producing crops for more than 100 years!
There are many varieties of gooseberry to try, from ones that produce tiny, sweet yellow sugary fruits to ones that produce large, red dessert types. Some offer excellent resistance to American gooseberry mildew although they don’t always taste as good. Try growing more than one variety of both dessert and culinary types to extend the picking season.
The ideal time for planting gooseberries is in the autumn. Prepare the soil thoroughly in your selected sunny, sheltered site. Fork over a wide area to break up the soil and remove weeds, then dig out a planting hole. Fork some compost or rotted manure into the soil at the base, along with a handful of granular or pelleted general-purpose fertiliser.
Plant bare-rooted bushes by spreading their roots out in the hole and covering with well-conditioned soil. Firm the soil down around the roots. With container-grown bushes, keep the surface of the rootball compost level with the surrounding soil surface. Space cordons 30cm to 45cm (12in to 18in) apart and bushes at least 1.2m (4ft) apart to allow access for picking.
Keep plants well watered until established, and cover the soil around them with a 5cm to 7.5cm (2in to 3in) thick mulch of compost or bark.
How to prune and train
Winter pruning helps to form a balanced branch structure and keeps the centre of the bush open to make picking easier. Mildew disease is also reduced if air circulation is encouraged. Fruits form on old wood and around the base of last year’s growth. Therefore prune back the previous years growth to two buds. Prune out any shoots that are growing into the centre of the bush, and cut back leaders by one-third.
Summer pruning is not essential, but if possible prune sideshoots back to five leaves in June. This will allow the sun to reach into the centre of the bush and help ripen the fruit.
Single-stemmed cordons can be trained on canes or against a wall where they can reach 1.8m (6ft) tall. In summer, prune sideshoots back to five leaves to encourage fruiting spurs to develop.
Tie the leading shoot tip into the support as it grows. In winter, shorten the previous year’s growth on the main tip back by a quarter to encourage new sideshoots. Shorten sideshoots pruned in summer to two or three buds.
Start thinning gooseberries during late May or early June removing about half the crop. The fruits from this first harvest can be used for cooking. This will give a longer cropping season and leaves others more room to grow to a larger size. The second harvest can be done a few weeks later, and many of the fruits will be packed full of natural sugar and taste delicious.
Look out for gooseberry sawfly from late spring onwards. Check leaves regularly for caterpillar damage and control by hand. If this is proving hard, spray bushes regularly with an insecticide. Always try to grow varieties resistant to mildew.
- Never let plants go short of water when their fruits are swelling and ripening. Heavy watering after a drought can cause fruits to split and rot.
- If you aren’t growing your gooseberries in a fruit cage, cover bushes with netting during June and July to keep off birds. Ensure it is weighted down at the base to prevent blackbirds getting underneath.
- Hungry bullfinches feed on the gooseberry buds in winter, so use netting to keep them at bay. Also delay pruning until the buds have started to grow in April. Thick growth helps to keep the birds away and you can be sure of pruning back to a living bud.
- Standard gooseberries make excellent plants for tubs. Choose a pot 35cm (14in) deep and wide and fill with a loam-based compost. Healthy shoots can be cut in autumn and early winter to use as hardwood cuttings which can be used to raise new bushes.
- Wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting the fruit to protect hands and arms from the sharp thorns.
Varieties to try
- ‘Invicta’ – makes a vigorous and spreading bush that bears large, pale green berries suitable for dessert and culinary use. It gives high yields when grown as a bush or cordon.
- ‘Pax’ – full-flavoured, red-fruited variety, almost completely thornless. The fruits of ‘Pax’ are large and sweet, formed on quite vigorous, open bushes. It has excellent mildew resistance.
- ‘Greenfinch’ – excellent disease-resistant variety that forms quite compact bushes. Early yields of bright green fruits and is excellent for cooking.
- ‘Rokula’ – red, delicious, dessert gooseberry with an open, drooping habit. It should be cropped early on. Resistant to mildew
- ‘Whinham’s Industry’ – popular red-fruited variety, happy in partial shade. Good choice for heavy soils but prone to mildew.
- ‘Careless’ – popular cooking variety with pale green fruits that gives heavy yields. Grows well on most soils but susceptible to mildew.
Everything you need to know
Raspberries are best grown from bare root plants in the autumn. There are lots of different varieties available, which bear fruit at different times. The majority are harvested between early and late summer, while others are grown for their autumn berries.
Prepare the site
Get the planting site ready by removing weeds and digging in plenty of well-rotted manure a few weeks before planting.
Raspberries are best grown against supports. In a large garden or allotment, hammer two 2.4m (8ft) tree stakes into the ground 60cm (24in) deep, about 3m (10ft) apart. If growing summer varieties, drill holes into the posts and stretch three rows of galvanised wires (12 gauge) between them – these should be 76cm (36in), 106cm (42in) and 167cm (66in) above the ground and held in place by straining bolts, which can be tightened with a spanner. If you have an autumn variety, there’s no need to add the top wire.
If you have a tiny garden, grow plants up a single tree stake. Hammer a stout 2.4m (8ft) stake into the ground and plant two raspberry canes at the base. Allow 12 canes to grow up and keep in place with garden twine.
The planting depth is important with raspberries and as a rule of thumb, aim for the old soil mark on the stem to be at the same level as the ground after planting. To do this, dig a shallow hole, about 30cm (1ft) wide and 8cm (3in) deep. Spread out the roots and cover with soil, firming as you go. Plant canes 40cm (16in) apart. Cut canes down to 30cm (1ft) above the soil, pruning above a bud, and water well.
Pruning and training
When new growth appears from the ground in spring, cut the old cane back to ground level. Tie in stems to the supporting wires as they grow, using garden twine. Prune canes that held fruit in summer during the autumn, cutting them right back to the ground. Tie in about eight of the strongest new canes from each plant to fruit next year, and remove the rest. In mid-winter, cut back lanky top growth so canes are about 15cm (6in) above the top wire.
Prune autumn fruiting varieties in mid-winter, cutting all stems to ground level.
Looking after the crop
Raspberries are a hungry and thirsty fruit. Scatter general purpose granular fertiliser over the soil in spring and mulch with well-rotted farmyard manure. Keep plants damp, especially during dry weather.
Pick fruit regularly when it is firm. Pull the raspberries gently from the plant, leaving behind the plug that held it in place.
Five to try
- ‘Glen Moy’ – spine free canes, heavy crops in early summer.
- ‘Glen Prosen’ – firm fruit in mid-summer.
- ‘Allgold’ – yellow fruit in autumn.
- ‘Malling Admiral’ – conical, dark red fruit in late mid-summer.
- ‘Autumn Bliss’ – Large red fruit in autumn.
Now imagine me saying that with the same poor, cockney twang of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins … sorry, I’m meandered away from the point of this post which is based around growing red currants, how easy it is and why eating redcurrants are good for you. Here goes …
A Bit Of Red Currant History
Red currants (ribes rubrum) are just one species of currant available – you can also grow black, white or pink currants.
The word ‘currant’ is relatively new – we only have records showing this word being used from around 1550. Before this time the word ‘ribes’ would have been used.
Blue green leaves on the red currant bushes, suitable for planting in your garden
Red Currant Bushes
You shouldn’t need a lot of space in your garden if you fancy growing red currants. With each bush growing to between 5-6 ft high and wide, a healthy currant bush will produce between 3-10lbs of fruit. So you could quite happily add just a couple into your garden and still enjoy a glut of fruit during the summer.
The bushes themselves are fairly ornamental. Fast growing, these deciduous shrubs have three to five-lobed leaves in a deep blue-green colour. You can grow the bushes as standards or try growing them as cordons or fans.
Planting and Propagation
Plum roma tomato plants howing new fruit
Find The Best Position
Although the leaves of the bushes are attractive, they are damaged by very strong sunlight. So when choosing where to grow your currant bushes try to find a spot where they’ll get to enjoy the morning sunshine, a little shade in the afternoon and are not restricted for air flow.
There’s not too much to worry about in regards to the type of soil you’ve got, although they do prefer heavier soils – so they’ll cope with clayey soils whereas you’d be advised to bulk up fine or sandy soils.
The reason for this is that currants like to be kept moist – so clay soil with well rotted manure incorporated (as they still need good drainage) is good whilst sandy soils dry out too quickly. One thing to watch out for is that they do NOT like alkaline or salty soil – so you’re best to check your soil for these (if you’re unsure of your soil type use a simply soil test kit to check before planting).
The roots of the currant are fairly fine, so take care when planting as they are easily damaged.
When planting you’ll need to dig a hole large enough to allow the roots of the bush to spread out – to give them the best start carefully spread out the roots in the hole you dig. Hold the bush in place whilst you fill in the hole with a mix of soil and organic matter (well rooted manure – or if that’s not available compost will do as you’re basically added nutrients into the ground). Once you’ve filled in the hole, water thoroughly and use your feet to firm down the soil (removing any trapped pockets of air and making sure the bush stays in position).
Currants are a very simple fruit to propagate and you’ve got two ways of increasing your plant stocks:
Just take hardwood cuttings about 12” long from the mature wood and plant into pots, leaving about 4” out of the soil. Roots will take from different places along the cutting. If you’re feeling a little cautious, dip the end of the cuttings in a hormone rooting powder or gel before planting. Keep these new cuttings protected until the following year.
An even simpler way of propagating currants is to simply take a low growing cane and bend onto the ground, cover over with soil and weigh down to hold in place. Once the roots start to grow strongly, simply remove from the main bush and replant. You can propagate in this way in autumn or spring.
Growing A Good Crop
Fast growing, currant bushes have a sudden flush of growth in the spring. Here are just a few tips to help you enjoy healthy crops year after year.
Keep Them Well Watered
Currant bushes need to be kept well watered. The number and size of the leaves will be reduced when water is scarce and the plants could become affected by mildew. However, although you need to water currant bushes often, because they have fine, fibrous, shallow roots you’ll be able to set up a simple drip watering system to keep them moist.
Using weeping garden hose for this type of watering is good idea, or where mains water is not available why not use a drip watering system running from your water butt – quick and easy to install either of these systems will save you time watering and will ensure your currants remain well watered.
It’s also advisable to provide your currant bushes with an annual mulch of well rotted manure or good quality compost which will both help your plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds. You should also ensure there are sufficient nutrients in the soil by applying some balanced compound fertiliser and high potash fertiliser to the surrounding ground.
Prune Every Year
The flowers – and therefore the all important fruit – on currant bushes is produced at the base of one year old wood and on the spurs of two and three year old wood. So this should help you when pruning – every autumn you should prune back the canes which are four years old. This way you’ll only have canes that are going to crop. This means, by pruning every year you’ll be increasing the crops and keep the bushes in good order.
Currant bushes are attractive when in flower as each of there flower buds opens up to reveal up to twenty delicate flowers, all on the same 5-6” stem – technically called the ‘sprig’. Insects will pollinate the bushes, with most varieties having self-fertile flowers. Depending on the variety, the currants will ripen from 70-100 days after pollination. If you want to increase the number and size of currants you’ll get you’ll need to cut off the ends of the sprigs whilst they’re in flower.
Red currants are ready start to ripen from mid summer (so about now). You’ll know the currants are ripe as the berries are a distinctive clear red and should be anywhere between 8-12mm in diameter.
If you’ve not collected red currants before you don’t need to pick off every berry individually – simply remove the entire cluster.
Make Sure You Get To Enjoy The Fruit
When the currants start to ripen they will be attractive to the birds as well as you. If you can make the initial investment, protect your crops with a fruit cage. 6ft high cages will completely enclose the bushes whilst leaving you space to water and harvest.
If you don’t want to make the initial investment – even though a well made cage will provide years of service – then try some forms of bird scarer – from the traditional scarecrow to the more modern methods of plastic bottle, tinfoil dishes or old CD’s strung up amongst the plants.
Like most fresh fruit, red currants are good for you. They contain a high amount of vitamin C, together with vitamin B, iron, phosphorus and fibre. They also have a relatively low calorie count at just 25 calories per 4oz (100g). Unfortunately, most people find the taste of red currants to tart so they tend to get used for garnishes, in preserves (jams or jellies) or cooked dishes rather than the berries being eaten raw.
Where to grow
Strawberries can be grown in a wide range of soils, from light sand to heavy clay. However, waterlogging will cause the fruits to become diseased and the plant to rot. The ideal soil is well-drained and rich in humus. They prefer to be planted in full sun, out of the wind.
Strawberry plants can be planted outdoors from late June until September. If planted later, the flowers should be removed in the first year so the energy is used to develop a healthy plant in year two.
Prepare the soil prior to planting by digging over the soil, removing any perennial weeds by hand and adding manure to the ground. Place the strawberry plants every 35cm (13 in) within the row, with the rows being 75cm (30 in) apart, and plant with the crown at soil level. Water in well. To prevent slugs, put down pellets or place grit or broken egg shells under each plant.
Strawberry plants can produce fruit for five or six years. However, after the first two years the yields will be reduced dramatically and a build-up of pests and diseases can occur. Strawberry beds are usually kept for two or three years before they’re cleared and planted on new ground.
Regularly hoe between the rows and individual plants. You might also want to place a net over the strawberries to stop birds and squirrels from eating the fruit. From late May, place straw in the rows and under the fruit trusses to suppress weeds and prevent the fruit lying on the ground. Barley straw is the best option, as it’s softer and more pliable. If you can’t get straw, use polythene sheeting.
It’s possible to extend the growing season by placing early strawberry varieties under cloches or polythene covers in late March. Grown in this way, the plants should produce fruit two to three weeks earlier than normal.
How to grow in a basket
Growing strawberries in a hanging basket ensures they’re kept out of the way of slugs. Plant five to six plants in a basket in spring, and water every day during the growing season. From flowering until harvest, feed the plants every ten days with a product that’s high in potassium, such as a tomato feed. The same strawberry plants should continue to produce fruit the following year, but the crops will be better if the plants are renewed.
How to harvest
It’s important to pick any fruit as soon as it’s ripe to prevent it rotting on the plant. Check the plants every other day during the ripening period. The fruit is ready when it has turned red, although different varieties have different shades. It’s best to harvest the fruit in dry weather. Pick gently to avoid bruising and make sure the green stalk (calyx) remains with the fruit.
- After harvesting, remove the straw or matting that has been protecting fruit from the ground. Compost straw and debris, or clean and store matting for next year.
- Cut off old leaves with hand shears and remove, leaving the crown and new leaves untouched. This allows sunlight into the centre of the plant, ensuring a better crop next year.
- Feed and water well.
- Leave nets off to allow birds to pick off any pests.
It’s simple to make more strawberry plants. The plants send out runners over the surface of the soil during the growing season. These can be pegged down, usually in June or July, while attached to the mother plant. Eventually, they will form a separate plant.
Don’t allow more than five runners to develop from each plant. In August, when the runner plants are well established, cut them from the parent and transplant immediately.
Five to try
- ‘Elvira’ – a heavy cropper producing large, soft fruits from June to early July.
- ‘Hapil’ – high-yielding variety with large, bright red fruits from early to late July.
- ‘Florence’ – grows well in all soils and produces large, dark fruit in late summer.
- ‘Vivarosa’ – one of the few varieties to produce pink (instead of white) flowers.
- Fragaria vesca – provides good ground cover in cottage gardens.