Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Small Fruits & Berries 101 (page 2 of 4)

by National Gardening Association Editors


Gooseberries grow on dense bushes that reach two to four feet tall without training. They're hardy throughout most of the U.S. excepting the southwestern deserts and the inland valleys of California. Best fruit production occurs in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S.

Gooseberries leaf out early in spring. The foliage is a lustrous green, turning bronze to red in fall, and branches are covered with straight, inch-long spines. The ripe fruit is either translucent yellow-green or dusky purple to red, depending on the variety. When ripe, the fruit is juicy and sweet with a pleasing acidity. As with any fruit, there are marked varietal differences in flavor.

Gooseberries are one of the few fruits that hold their quality well on the bush when ripe. The earliest gooseberries (which can be picked green) fill the brief gap between the last strawberries and the first red raspberries. When the berries reach about 1/2-inch diameter and are still hard and a month from being ripe, they're excellent for pies and other cooked desserts. This early harvest thins the fruit so the ripe berries will be larger.

Gooseberries, especially the unripe fruit, are high in pectin; you can make very thick jam with no added pectin. A mature plant can produce from five to eight quarts of fruit, so one plant may be all you need. Where space is extremely limited, train gooseberries against walls as fan-shaped espaliers or as single-stemmed cordons. These make striking plants with year-round interest, and picking will be easier, too.

Gooseberries bear fruit near the base of one-year-old shoots and on short spurs on older wood. So no matter how carelessly one prunes, there's always some fruit. Remove about 20 percent of the oldest growth--wood that's been growing for three to five seasons--each year. Also cut out enough of the newest growth to make the plant open and easy to pick. Always save some vigorous new shoots to become future main branches. Any new shoot can be cut back to four to six inches with little loss in fruiting potential.

Red Raspberries

A 30-foot row of raspberries, trained to single stems against a wall or fence, will yield about a quart of fruit every other day for three weeks, and that's plenty of raspberries for most people. A more traditional hedge-type planting will yield twice that amount, although it takes at least twice the space. Intensively trained berries are extremely productive. To get the most from red raspberries, plant at least two kinds: a main crop variety for heavy early summer harvests and a fall (or everbearing) type to close out the berry harvest. Where the season is long, you may need to plant two fall varieties to keep you picking until frost.

The popular 'Heritage' variety, for example, will be finished in early September in USDA Zone 6, with about four weeks of potential ripening weather left. It's a mistake to cut raspberry canes back in an effort to make the canes self-supporting. The most fruitful buds are those nearest the top of the canes. You'll get the best results by tying the canes to two wires 2-1/2 and five or six feet off the ground, depending on the vigor of the variety. Main-crop raspberries fruit on one-year-old canes. After harvest, cut them out at ground level to favor the new canes. When you've got vigorous new canes growing about six inches apart, remove any new ones that appear through the growing season. Fall raspberries fruit on new canes at the end of their first growing season and again the following summer. For heavier fall crops, prune the canes to the ground after the first harvest in autumn and forego the summer crop from fall varieties.

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