[NAFEX] gooseberry discussion for you to edit

Kieran &/or Donna holycow at frontiernet.net
Fri Oct 9 00:06:14 EDT 2009

Let me know if I have misquoted you or if you want anything changed.  I still want location for a few of you.  
Comments re gooseberries in Eastern US 

Poorman, Black Velvet, and Invicta are all reasonably sweet when well ripened, but (to my taste) are more for cooking than fresh eating. Hinnomaki Yellow is very early and ripens to a rich apricot-like sweetness that's excellent for fresh eating. -Lon Rombough,  Oregon


I experimented with many gooseberries for a time but was inadequately impressed with any of the fruit to devote space to them.  Poorman and Invicta grow well in my climate and are pretty good to eat off the plant but I'd rather be eating sweet-cherries which are ripening in their season.  Hinomaki Yellow and Black Velvet did not grow with adequate vigor for me, but by the time I planted them I was already losing interest.  At least they did not suffer excessively from mildew which doomed  the prized European varieties.  Invicta is virtually immune to mildew and has very attractive fruit. The only ribes I take the time and space to manage anymore are black currants which are the healthiest fruit grown in the temperate world I think.  I love them as barely cooked preserves or run through a blender raw with fresh apple cider and strained- pure ambrosia!   The Cascade black currant I grow is delicious off the plant but is supposedly not pine-blister-rust resistant.  They have not infected my white pines after 15 years, however. Alan Haigh  Conn?


 Pixwell gooseberry is the type mostly sold in this area. They are easy to grow but are sour and make poor quality filling for pies. Today I received Poorman, Black Velvet, Invicta and Yellow Hinomaki plants. Has anyone had experience with these gooseberries? I grew Pixwell for years and had no problems with diseases except mouse damage but I don't think they are worth growing.   Ernest Plutko,  where?  


My gooseberries are only two years old, growing very well in a row along the east side of my house - and this space is only six feet wide, with the house on one side and a 6' tall, solid privacy fence on the other.  they don't get much light, just a few hours at midday The H Yellow is smaller than the others, but it was just loaded with large berries last year (after one year in the ground). The H Red also had tons of berries. The rest (Poorman, Jewel, and Red George) did not, but I suspect they'll do much better this year, at two years old.  picked half the berries green, for pie, and let the rest get ripe. I can't say I was wild about the taste of the ripe fruit, but don't know what else would produce so abundantly in such a location. They tasted good enough, certainly, but might not be my first choice for a sunny site. Still, they seem perfect for that location.    Bill   Nebraska (zone 5)  2008

I suppose it depends on personal preferences and maybe the conditions, but I never thought Hinonmaki Yellow was good ripe. Plus, they fall off the bush VERY quickly when they start to get ripe - or, at least, they do for me. So I pick them all green. As soon as they start to turn color, and start to fall off the bush, I pick them all. Well, I'm anxious for gooseberry pie by then, so it works out well. I let the other varieties ripen longer. And as I mentioned earlier, H. Yellow is my most prolific gooseberry (though the smallest bush, by far), so I get a lot of gooseberries from it.

    For what it's worth, birds haven't bothered my gooseberries* (they do go after the currants, though - and pretty much everything else I grow). Certainly, if you have cherries ripening at the same time, I wouldn't 
think they'd even notice the gooseberries  And yes, the gooseberries are earlier than most of my fruit - especially 
if I pick them green for pie. We tried ripe - or mostly ripe - gooseberries in pie this summer, too. They were great. I don't know if I like green or ripe gooseberries better in pie, since they're both good, and I didn't eat them side by side. But the color of ripe gooseberry pie was very nice. But I planted gooseberries for fresh eating, and they've been a bit disappointing for that. But I can eat them in oatmeal for breakfast. And I did discover that combining them with blueberries was wonderful (either in oatmeal, or just in a bowl with milk and sugar). Bill, Lincoln, NE (zone 5)


   Poorman our worst yielder over multiple years against about a dozen others, so removed.   When moving to our new farm, I will be planting out Amish Red, Captivator and Glenndale.  The latter is the most productive and heat resistant for us.    Richard Moyer  NE TN  2008

    We fruited gooseberries in East TN for a number of years.  Planted with lots of organic matter on top, and kept adding leaves each year to keep roots cool.  Ed Mashburn considered this key.  Also chose a site with shade after 2-3pm.  Most gooseberries suffer above 86F.  I concur that Glenndale is the best performer, year in and out, for our location.  Very vigorous, and holds its leaves later than any others.  Hence a bigger bush. Invicta sunburns badly, and also is a magnet for imported currant worm and a branch damaging beetle the looked liked (and may be) locust borer.  So Invicta a good trap crop for a gooseberry planting.   But we keep our two plants growing because my wife likes it best for fresh eating.Jahn's Prairie gives good flavored fruit, but not much yield, though thornless.  Jeanne (aka ORUS 126?) also not a heavy yielder, nor a good survivor.   Performed much better in Corvallis. Hinnomakis were patented, I like to be able to multiply my plantings and share plants, so did not put either in.  Black Velvet and ORUS 8 did not impress me during my summer evaluating gooseberries and currants in Corvallis, never tried them in TN.  Ed Mashburn recommended Captivator, Glenndale and Amish Red, and all have done very well in East TN, with a comparable climate to his in PA.  Each also very resistant to mildew, something necessary for TN.  Glenndale does have wicked thorns, but this effectively deterred the possums and raccoons when they feasted on the thornless and lightly thorned cultivars. Poorman grew like gangbusters in TN, but would make me poor if I depended on its fruit.  No fruit most years, though the 3-5 I did get on occasion from 4 bushes were of good quality.  For my planting at our new place, have put in none of the below, but have put in Glenndale, Amish Seedling and Captivator.  There is another that does nearly as well as Glenndale, one from an elderly couple who got it decades ago from another elderly couple.  So ask around and you may find something suited to your area.  I would only plant Jahn's Prairie at your site from that list (Black Velvet   Canada   Hinomaki Red &Yellow   Invicta  Johns Prairie   Jeanne  Orus 8   Poorman), as there are other cultivars better suited for our upper south sites. Lastly, goats, in my experience and that of another friend, will not eat gooseberry or currant plants in our ecosystem, when they have browse of the native plants or grass.  Deer also went by the gooseberries (thornless ones, too) to eat sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash leaves. Richard Moyer  Castlewood, SW VA   1800' elevation  Historically Zone 6 winters

In our experience in East TN, birds have not been a problem on our gooseberries.  The bit of bird damage we have is on the thornless (or nearly so) ones.  Glenndale, Invicata and Amish Seedling bear very well, and are not damaged significantly by birds.  As for netting, we put two corners of big pieces on long (bamboo) poles, then drape the netting over the sour cherry trees.  Saw this in Organic Gardening mag.  Put netting on as soon as the cherries start to ripen, and remove at last picking.  We also netted the gooseberries some years, then discovered that furry critters were eating them instead of birds.  Live trapping racoons and possums helped limit damage.  Again, merely draped the netting over the plants just before ripe, then removed after last picking.

 Ed Mashburn had many of his gooseberries trained to a vertical, 1-2 wire trellis, got them up off the ground and easy to pick and prune.  Especially useful for the floppy ones.

 Invicta, a green fruited one, has a very thin skin, and is my wife's favorite gooseberry for fresh eating.  I prefer Captivator and Glenndale fresh.  Invicta works very well for us in frozen desserts, reminiscent in flavor and color to lime sherbert.  Our kids eat many gooseberries fresh, as previously noted.  We freeze gooseberries like blackberries and blueberries, then use them in the winter primarily in cobblers.

 Lee Reich does a fine job writing about gooseberries (and other fruits) in his Uncommon Fruits books.  He distinguishes between dessert and cooking gooseberries, talks about culture, uses, sources, cultivars, etc.  Worth reading his chapter-length treatment of gooseberries, especially for someone planting them in quantity.  He suggests interlibrary loan as one method of accessing his books.

 As for one type of berry attracting birds from another and thereby limiting damage, in observations at our place this is overrated.  I don't recall all the species, but I do remember that flocks of birds tended to raid the cherries, and solitary birds preyed on the mulberries and juneberries, different birds favoring different fruits all at once.  These fruits surrounded our sunroom where we ate all our meals, so plenty of time for close observation all season long.  Our east TN birds obviously ignore theories on how they're supposed to feed!  R. Moyer

Glad you are doing your homework, and are putting in gooseberries.  Very reliable fruit for the upper south, in our experience, re: cold, late freezes; jap beetle and deer resistance.  One more gem from Ed. M. that really helped us establish Ribes: use plenty of mulch over the roots to keep them cool, limit weeds, and build the soil.  He gathered bags of leaves for this.  Lee Reich another advocate of this style of gardening, first in practice and then in print.   

As for your reluctance to place your plants in sun, because, if I understand your reasons, you are worried about the intensity, but the angle of the sun is the same in middle TN as here in east TN.
Most of my gooseberries get full sun up until 2-3 pm.  Others, such as Amish seedling actually are on the north side of our asphalt driveway, lying in the heat and sun all day long.  They have not defoliated and bear loads of fruit in this heat and sun.  BUT, the roots are heavily mulched in a bed with lots of organic matter from previous years.  So, in my experience of 15 years fruiting gooseberries with sun intensity similar to yours, the issue is more root temperature than shade.  
On our new farm, we have a number of naturalized or wild gooseberry plants, with small fruit.  The ones in dappled shade have very few fruit, while the ones in afternoon sun can be loaded with fruit.  I have also seen wild plants growing in meadows with full day sun.  So, don't assume because TN sun is intense that your gooseberry plants will need lots of shade.  If that's the only place you can offer them, then go for it.  Michael McConkey does note that gooseberries are a fruit that does well in partial shade, unlike certain other fruits.  Just don't assume shade is necessary, as long as roots can be kept cool and moist during the summer.   Richard Moyer  Castlewood, VA 2009


A major portion of my limited growing space is devoted to gooseberries and blueberries.  At last count, my collection has nearly 20 varieties of gooseberries but not Pixwel.  Fortunately for me I heard its recommendations before I got around to purchasing. Of all the varieties, I think Hinnomaki yellow & red, Black Velvet and Poorman are the best (for taste).  I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite between them, they are all different.  I do not have Invicta yet.  Flavor wise, I find it difficult to distinguish between Poorman and H. red.  H. yellow is a spreading form that grows slowly. After about 8 years mine is about 2' tall.  I trim the spreading branches from time to time to increase the height.  I'm also growing out some taller, less desirable vars for creating standards with H.yellow.  All four of the vars mentioned above suffer from black spot, which is very common here.  A couple of annual copper based sprayings control it well and it does not seem to impact productivity.  All of my gooseberries are container grown, so that I can move to bird shelter when needed.  That does slow them down a bit. My experience is that gooseberries do not refrigerate well - it seems to degrade the taste to me.  However, a significant amount of my crop goes into vacuum bags in the freezer.  Freezing does something to the flavor that makes them an excellent winter snack. So I agree with your choices.  You had some good advice as far as I'm concerned.  John  S

I am in zone 5+ western PA, appalachian foothills.  Don't have Amish Red, but Captivator and Glendale are poor performers here.  Fruit is sparse.  Best production is H. yellow, H. red and Black Velvet.  Poorman not as productive as Red George or H. yellow, H. red, but reasonably productive with good tasting (not sour) fruit.  Larger fruited varieties can be productive, such as Tixia, Achilles, etc but are more sour here.  My plants get full sun.  The lighter colored fruits (non-red or black) such as H. yellow show blemishes from various causes.  I use fiberglass screen to partially shade some of the plants if they start to sunburn, but that is not much of a problem here.  Biggest problems are black spot (don't ever see mildew) and insects.  Last year had something piercing ripening fruit overnight and could not determine what was doing it.  Wasps and japanese beetles pretty aggressive towards the fruit as well but could be controlled with covers when needed.  John S. 

 My experience with Tixia is disappointing.  While the berries are large (easily 1"), they are also sour.  They also fall off for me before they ripen, making them a frustrating experience.  Given your tendency to pick your gooseberries pre-ripe, they may be of advantage due to their size but I think they are a poor table gooseberry.  If bugs are a major problem for your "Poorman", then screen it and let them ripen.  You should be pleased with the ripe berry taste.  Gooseberries fruit size can be significantly affected by the number of berries allowed to mature.  If yours are tiny, thinning may help.. Hinnomaki Red is excellent but similar to Poorman in taste and sweetness and among my favorites.  I find they ripen at slightly different times.  Pixwell is a poor comparison and not worth growing unless you use the fruit for cooking.  Poorman produces average size berries here.  If yours produced tiny berries, then perhaps you had incorrectly ID'd plants or something else was wrong.  John S

My gooseberries ripen in July.  For raw, consider Hinnomaki Red or Poorman, both excellent quality if allowed to ripen.  I find that the red fruited ones have superior taste to the greens and whites.  Birds, esp robins around here, and Jap beetles will destroy your crop, if precautions are not taken.  John  S

I find that most of the tartness of H. Red is located in the skin. Fully ripened, they are quite good and even the skin sweetens. That is, of course, if the birds, jap beetles and fruit wasps will let them alone long enough. I screened (PVC hoops, clips, and fiberglass screen) all my gooseberries, blueberries, currants and bush cherries this year - well worth the cost and effort, as I am getting the best harvest ever --- and they get to ripen with predation losses. I am getting ripe fruit from varieties that never lasted long enough before, apparently being preferred by the varmints and critters.  Even though we had a cloudy summer, fruit quality was excellent and prolific berries produced, despite the reduced light from the clouds and screen.  

In my backyard fruit garden, I have a limited number of each of the kinds I have.  Under those circumstances, the birds and bugs do devastating damage.  It is also clear to me that many members on the list harvest some of these small fruits too early, then criticize the taste or quality, not realizing that a longer time on the plant would make a huge difference.  For example, a recent post linked sweet cherries to ripening of gooseberries, but all my sweet cherries are long gone when the gooseberries are ripening here.  If you are going to get properly ripened small fruit (gooseberries, currants, juneberries and blueberries), be prepared to provide some kind of protection.  I would suggest you install it at the time of planting.   I fought the birds for years, then finally netted for birds, then for years fought fruit eating wasps/bees and jap beetles.  Finally screened the plants this year and was kicking myself for not doing it a decade ago when I saw and tasted the results. 

I've had  H.Yellow for about 10 years or so (not sure how long).  It was my first gooseberry and inspired me to purchase others.  So far, no significant root suckers, but serious lateral growth.  Consistent pruning of lateral growth has lead my plants to get taller, but the process is very slow, perhaps an inch or so a year.  It is an abundant producer for its size, always fruits (never missed a season) and has tasty fruit.  My only complaint is that the yellow fruit blemishes easily and shows the blemishes prominantly.  It is also a slow grower compared to some others but, as far as I can see, virtually indestructible. John S


Donna, I've had great success with Glenndale, a very tough USDA cultivar especially developed for more southerly parts of the U.S.  I know the quality of its fruit is lower than most of the cultivars on your list, but I'd give it a try.  It has never mildewed for me here in St. Paul.   my plant from Edible Landscaping. -- Sam Brungardt, St. Paul, Minn. (USDA Zone 4b)


Donna  The only variety on your list that I have grown is Orus 8 (a jostaberry), which did really poorly. The small fruit mildewed severely and had a moldy flavor, and it died after 3 years. The jostaberry 'Josta' is doing well for me now, but took 4 years before it began producing. Glenndale is one of the few gooseberry varieties that is claimed to hold up to the heat and humidity in TN. I have not grown it, but I do have a seedling of it that produced a couple of fruits this year-too early to say if it will be anything worth keeping. I also have Captivator, which has really suffered during the past two extremely wet summers. It drops its fruit prematurely in hot weather.   Hal   zn 6/7 TN


Ed Mashburn was for a time, if I recall correctly, the NAFEX Ribes consultant, and proprietor of Northumberland Berryworks as well as head of The International Ribes Association, recommended Pixwell and Glenndale as two gooseberry varieties that would handle my hot zone 6 climate - and even full sun here.  Granted, neither variety got rave reviews for fruit quality, but I can attest that Pixwell survived and fruited - rather heavily - in full sun here for years before my wife made me move it, because it was invading the blueberries. Pixwell may not be 'much punkin', as they say here, but even a low-quality gooseberry beats no gooseberries at all.  Lucky, southwestern KY


 Can't comment on their suitability for the south, but Black Velvet is extremely delicious, but a light bearer and a wimpy plant compared to other gooseberries I've had. H Red is very good quality, and does very well for me here. I've also had Invicta and H Yellow, they do just fine, but not my favorite tasting.  -matt  z5 se mi


  I don't know what would work best in Tennessee (and because I've only had gooseberries for three years). But so far, Poorman is the only one I really like for fresh eating. Unfortunately so far I'm getting few berries from it. But for picking green for pies, I'm wildly enthusiastic about H Yellow. The bush is much smaller than the rest, and it hugs the ground (mostly due to the weight of the berries, I suppose), so it's a real pain to pick. But from the first year, it's been just solid with large gooseberries, far more prolific than any other I have.  All of the others I've planted produce well, grow bigger than I expected, and are a pain to pick, partly because there's not much room (note that Poorman has few thorns, which really is a benefit). But the berries are disappointing fresh (superb for pie, though, whether green or ripe).  No disease problems with any of them. Bill  NE (zone 5)


When in the Chicago area I had Hinomaki Yellow.  flavor was good, but it was a pain to manage.  It is a weeper and tip roots so you have a thorny ground cover in short order.  Lots of people liked Poorman .  Martha


Bill, if you want the berries on the Hinnonmaki Red to size up before they ripen, you probably should remove every other one. One nice way to use these unripe berries without having to go to all the work of making pie is to cook them with a little water and some sugar until the skins of the berries burst and the berries turn into a mush. Refrigerate this and then for a dessert, make some sweetened whipped cream and fold some of the gooseberry puree into the whipped cream. Voila, you've just made Gooseberry Fool, a traditional English dessert.  Sam Brungardt, St. Paul, Minn. (USDA hardiness zone  4b)


My gooseberry bushes look great, and I've been very pleased that nothing was eating the  leaves. When I  went to thin them, I discovered there are worms in many of the green gooseberries. A bright green worm that moves very quickly when  disturbed. I'd heard of currant worms (which I suppose these are?), but  I'd read that they attacked the leaves of the plant. As I say, I wasn't smart enough to keep a close eye on the developing berries. The infested berries are obvious, since they're a bit fuzzy. And they pick off very easily. So I removed all of the wormy berries that I could find and tossed them in the trash, then picked about one third of the  remaining green gooseberries for a pie. I'll spray with Bt as soon as it looks like we'll have a couple of days without rain. It's been a remarkably - wonderfully - wet year here, so far.  Bill, Nebraska


I rediscovered some Jostaberries I had planted many years ago & had forgotten.  I think they have a wonderful flavor & I like that the fruit lasted far longer than the currants & gooseberries that I grow.  In fact the unpicked fruit are still hanging on the plants, albeit raisins.  They also are showing no signs of rust, one of the few that I have that seem clean.   ~mIEKAL





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