Her Outdoors: I am a gooseberry fool

Jane Merrick

One of the plants I inherited when I took over Plot 35a last year was a gooseberry bush. It was quite straggly and had criss-crossing branches and as a result cropped poorly last summer. The handful of gooseberries it did produce, however, were red, not green, and I later found a faded label revealing it to be ‘Hinnonmaki Red’, a sweet, crimson-fleshed variety cultivated in Finland.

I pruned the crossing and straggly branches last summer and mulched around the base with well-rotted manure in winter. It thrived really well this spring, and I had high hopes for a glut of red gooseberries, imagining the fools, jam and butter I could make from them. Sure enough, by May, there were dozens of them emerging amid the shield-shaped leaves and sabre-like thorns. As every gardener should know, birds and squirrels love berries, particularly when they’re red, so when my gooseberries’ tinge began to turn from green to red I threw a net over them.

Here is a picture of my gooseberry bush.

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Badly-netted gooseberry

There are two things you might notice. One: it is badly-netted. Two: there are no gooseberries on it. Unsurprisingly, these two things are linked. When I threw the netting over the bush, I assumed this would deter the birds, but failing to peg it into the ground all the way round did not stop the squirrels. So, one day the gooseberries were there, ripening in the sun, the next day, every last one of those had gone. I am a gooseberry fool.

To console myself, I bought some really fat (but green) gooseberries and made a fool anyway. The common recipe is to boil the fruit with a splash of water and two-thirds the amount of sugar to fruit, then leave it to cool. Strain the mush through a sieve. In a separate bowl, whisk some double cream – match the weight of the gooseberries in grammes to the number of millilitres in cream, eg 250g of fruit to 250ml of cream. Once the cream has formed soft peaks, fold into the sieved gooseberry mixture and chill in the fridge before eating. Maybe I can do this with red gooseberries next year.

June and July is a good time to prune fruit bushes and trees that have fruited. It is also best to prune fruit like apricots, cherries, plums and apples during summer to minimise the risk of silver leaf disease, a bacterial fungus which spreads in cool damp conditions in autumn and winter. After the disappointment of the gooseberries, I set to work pruning nearly all the fruit bushes on my plot (though not raspberries, blackberries and blackcurrants, whose crops are yet to be harvested).

The grapevine was first: yes, the grapes do not crop until autumn, but while the branches are growing fast it’s a good idea to keep cutting back laterals to leave two bunches on each branch and let the vine focus its energy on fattening and ripening the grapes rather than on the whippy growth.

Next, the apples: I am growing four varieties, and they too have not been harvested yet, but if you are training into cordons, espaliers or, like me, step-overs, it is a good idea to snip off extra shoots and growth to train the tree into shape.

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Apple 'Early Victoria' close up

As the name suggests, ‘Early Victoria’ is one of the first apples to be ready. Even though mine is a new cordon tree, which I am training into a step-over, I have counted eight apples. They are ready when you can gently twist the apple on its stem and it falls into your hand – not before.

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Apple 'Tom Putt'

This is ‘Tom Putt’, a cider apple, above. I pruned the new growth seen here above the apple so it can be trained into a step-over.

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Pruning 'Early Victoria'

Pruning the ‘Early Victoria’ to leave the only shoots to be trained horizontally as a step-over.

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Pruning Peach 'Avalon Pride'

Cut back peach laterals by half to stimulate new growth, and if training into a fan or espalier, cut out growth that’s going in the wrong direction. My peach ‘Avalon Pride’ was planted this winter, and has failed to produce any blossom or fruit – which I hope is only as a result of its new position and not anything more serious.

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Pruning gooseberry 'Hinnonmaki'

Gooseberries like my poor, stripped ‘Hinnonmaki’ need to have their sub-laterals pruned back to five leaves. Same goes for redcurrants, shown here:

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Pruning Redcurrant 'Rovada'

Importantly, quinces – which bear their fruit on the tips of their stems – should not be pruned in the summer, because you find that they suddenly, after a heatwave and torrential rainstorms, burst into a second flush of flower, as here:

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Quince 'Meech's Prolific' in flower

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  • hans_odeberg

    Interesting to hear about the gooseberries. I have never had any problem with gooseberries being picked by birds or other animals, despite not having deployed neither nets nor landmines. Maybe the squirrels up in Sweden are of the lazy kind?

  • Phyllis Mathewson

    I think I ate that type of gooseberry in Liz’s garden in Finland two years ago. They were delicious. Will ask her when I visit next month.

  • Phyllis Mathewson

    Squirrels are voracious in certain parts of the UK.

  • Pingback: Her Outdoors: Finland edition | | Independent Her Outdoors Blogs

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