by John Craig, excerpted from L.H. Bailey’s Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, 1903
The Gooseberry and the currant are two of the hardiest types of bush fruits. The native forms range far north into British America. Seedlings of these are also very hardy. English varieties are comparatively tender. The Gooseberry appears not to have been cultivated for more than 300 years. There was, however, a remarkable increase in the number of varieties in England between 1650 and 1750. The Gooseberry became a favorite fruit with the Lancashire weavers, who should be credited with this great development. Miller, 1731, says it would be useless to attempt an enumeration of varieties. In America the Gooseberry has been a neglected fruit. With wild forms in abundance, types greatly superior to those from which the immense English varieties were derived, with a crying need for better table varieties, practically nothing has been done to improve the natives. Our natives have not been improved primarily because the American people have never acquired or cultivated a taste for the fresh fruit of the Gooseberry. In England the fruit of many of the large, fine-flavored varieties is used uncooked. In America the fruit of the Gooseberry is thought of only in connection with pie (tart) or jam, and when transformed into these food products, flavor, while of some importance, is but a minor consideration. The claim that English Gooseberries are less palatable than the natives is quite true, when passed upon from this standpoint. The best cooking apples are not usually prized in the raw state on the table, and vice versa. The point is this — and it is worth making — that there are dessert Gooseberries and also culinary Gooseberries. We should keep the classes distinct, and work for the production of varieties with the vigor of our natives and quality and size of fruit of the best European. Houghton was produced nearly 70 years ago, and Downing from Houghton seed, grown by Charles Downing, about 40 years ago. These two varieties represent the American type, although it is possible that Downing is the result of a cross between Houghton and some European variety. The habit of the plant partakes somewhat of European characteristics. Downing is the more popular.
Site and preparation of soil. — The largest and finest native bushes are found upon rich bottom lands. Moist, but not soggy, clay loams give best results. No amount of fertilizing will bring sandy soil into condition suitable to the successful culture of the Gooseberry anywhere in this country except, perhaps, along the north Atlantic and north Pacific seaboards. Good results have been secured in the Lake Ontario fruit region on reddish, calcareous clay. In such situations the fruit does not drop easily, and the plants are usually free from mildew. On the east and west coasts the aspect or lay of the land is of less importance than in the interior. In the mid-continental region a sharp, north slope on a cool, clay loam ridge is essential to the fullest success. A clover sod turned under and thoroughly worked up is an excellent preparation for the Gooseberry plantation. A heavy preparatory application of barnyard manure may tend to make the soil too porous and too easily dried out. If applied the season previous to setting the plants, and the land is cropped with potatoes, it will be left in good condition to receive the Gooseberries.
Gooseberries, particularly the English kinds, will endure more shade than most fruit plants, provided the soil is suitable. Good results are often secured by planting in rather densely shaded city gardens. Where these conditions prevail, special attention should be paid to maintaining an open head, in order to discourage the growth of mildews.
Planting and training. — The Gooseberry vegetates at a low temperature. It should, therefore, be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. A better plan is to plant early in autumn. It may be transplanted successfully as early as August 15 south of latitude 42 degrees, and north of that line from September 1 up to the beginning of frosty weather. When set out late in autumn, the surface of the ground should be thoroughly mulched with straw or manure. The English varieties grow somewhat larger than the American type, and require rather more space. The plants are variously distanced, according to the inclination of the grower; 6×3, 5×3, and 4×4 feet apart for garden culture are the commoner distances at which the plants are set.
The training of the Gooseberry is exceedingly simple. It bears most freely on 2- and 3-year-old wood. The aim should be to keep a continuous supply of vigorous shoots. As they become enfeebled, cut them out. Encourage spurring by cutting back when a variety indulges in a rambling habit, like Josselyn (Red Jacket). In the East, it is recommended to thin the head to lessen the tendency to mildew. This is probably good advice, but in the West it does not apply with the same force; rather cut out the weaker branches, and prevent mildew by other methods. This, also, to facilitate fruit picking. Prune to encourage upright growth, when cultivating varieties like Mountain Seedling and Houghton. The bush form, with several stems, is to be preferred to the single stem; plantations last longer in bush form, and are more productive.
Tillage and fertilizing. — In the east and west coast climates, and in the lake region, clean culture may be given; but in the interior, mulching with strawy manure or barnyard litter is better than mulching with soil. Cool, rich soil constitutes an essential to success. Good results have been obtained by the use of coal ashes as mulch. This is, of course, only an amateur’s method, and not feasible on a commercial scale. The Gooseberry is grown with a fair degree of success between young orchard trees on the loose soils bordering the upper waters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The practice is not to be commended from the standpoint of the welfare of the orchard.* Gooseberries are also grown between grape rows — a practice hardly to be commended.* Practice only shallow tillage.
* We wonder why these practices are not commended, do your observations support or contradict these findings? Let us know! – SFJ
Picking, marketing, and conserving. — Picking Gooseberries is an uncomfortable and generally uncongenial occupation. The best native varieties, as a rule, are those most completely armed with thorns. A little practice, however, will enable a dexterous picker to secure the berries without receiving much punishment in return. The berries cluster along the lower side of the bearing branch. They are best removed by elevating and steadying the branch with one hand while the other hand rapidly removes the berries, working from the base upwards. Picking costs between 1 and 2 cents per quart — usually 1 1/2 cents. English Gooseberries should be marketed either in quart boxes or in 5-pound Climax baskets.
American varieties are nearly always picked green, and are usually called for in considerable quantities for stewing, jam making or for canning. These are shipped in 10- and 20-pound baskets. The following reasons are given for marketing Gooseberries in the green condition: (1) The hard, green fruit is not as easily injured in picking and packing as the pulpy ripe fruit, and it will stand transportation better. (2) The fruit that is allowed to ripen on the bushes is exposed longer to attacks of sunscald and mildew, and should long-continued rains follow a period of drought, the ripening fruit is liable to crack and spoil. (3) The ripening of fruit is an exhaustive process, from which the tree is partly relieved when the fruit is marketed green. (4) The proceeds from the green fruit usually compare favorably with the proceeds from the ripe fruit, although the large English varieties sometimes bring the highest prices of the season.
Gooseberries are very palatable if canned just before reaching maturity. Sugar should be used in the proportion of one-third to one-half pound to each quart of berries. When treated in this way, Gooseberry pie may be enjoyed at any time during winter. Gooseberry jam is indulged in to a considerable extent by residents of Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Dakota. Wild berries are gathered and largely used for the purpose, their aromatic acidity giving a spiciness to the finished product which is notably wanting in that made from cultivated types.
Types and varieties. — Practically, there are two types of Gooseberries in cultivation.
1. The European (Ribes Grossularia, Figs. 922, 923), characterized by stocky, upright growth, light-colored spines, thick, glossy leaves and large, variously colored fruit. The plants are less hardy than our natives or their hybrids, are affected by our hot summer suns, and are very susceptible to fungous troubles, prominent among which is mildew. The New York Experiment Station recommends the following varieties: Crown Bob (Fig. 924); red, large, round, of good quality. Industry (Fig. 925), Lancashire Lad; fr. Dark red, nearly round; plant prolific, healthy. Prince Harry: one of the largest, green, good quality.
2. Americans, and hybrids between European and American species, usually classed with Americans (Figs. 926, 927, 928): leaves thinner than in R. Grossularia; leaf-stalks hairy, spines borne singly, fruit small, reddish green, shading off to purple. Pale Red may be considered a good type of the species. Varieties: Champion partakes largely of European characteristics. Downing is the most widely planted of all gooseberries in America (Fig. 929); fruit medium size, oval, green; plant upright, vigorous, healthy, productive. Houghton, an old favorite; fruit small, round, dark red, good quality. Pearl; almost identical with Downing, of which it is a seedling. Josselyn; fruit large, red, oval; plant vigorous and prolific. Another promising native type is R. Cynosbati, represented by the Mathews, of Iowa origin.
Propagation. — This is effected in three principal ways. (1) Cuttings: The Gooseberry does not “strike” very readily from cuttings. Native varieties root more freely than English types. The cuttings may be taken in the fall, as soon as the wood is ripened. They should be 7 to 9 inches long. They may be set in the ground at once, or tied in bundles and buried in the ground, or stored in a cold cellar over winter. The cellar must be cold — almost down to freezing point. Fall-set cuttings should be planted obliquely, so that the heaving of the ground will not throw them out. Set cuttings in nursery row 3 feet apart and give clean culture. (2) Layers: Propagation by layering is the common nursery practice. For this purpose, plants 5 or 6 years old are used. They should be vigorous and healthy. They should be cut back severely in the autumn or early spring. This encourages a dense, bushy growth. The layering is done by plowing a furrow against the row on each side and forcing the branches down by throwing soil directly on top of the bushes. In moist regions a comparatively small amount of covering is necessary. In dryish regions 5 or 6 inches of soil is necessary. In the fall the soil is removed and the rooted branches separated from the parent bush, leaving buds for the production of shoots the following season; or, the entire plant may be taken up and divided. (3) Root-cuttings: Native Gooseberries may also be propagated by cuttings of the roots. The plants are taken up in the fall with all roots possible. The latter are cut into 2- or 3-inch lengths and packed in boxes of earth, which are stored in a cold cellar. In spring the pieces of roots are planted in nursery rows, covered with 2 inches of soil. English varieties are not readily propagated by this method. When single stem plants are desired, they should be grown from cuttings. In order to discourage sprouting tendencies the buds above the roots should be removed — disbudded. Layer plants are best for procuring the bush form of plant used almost exclusively in America.
Diseases. — The Gooseberry, as a rule, is affected seriously by only two plant parasites, mildew and leaf-spot. The former attacks the English varieties, while the latter is the chief fungous enemy of American varieties.
Mildew (Sphaerotheca Mors-Uvae): This is the bugbear of English varieties in America. It has done more to discourage the cultivation of this type than anything else. This fungus attacks shoots, foliage and fruit. It covers the affected part with a gray, frost-like coating. This turns to a dirty brown later on. It is a surface growing parasite, and the web-like covering may be peeled from the fruit in its early stages. The ends of the shoots and younger leaves are attacked first, causing the bush to take on a stunted appearance. The best remedy for mildew: circulation of air secured by a favorable site, good drainage and proper training.
Leaf-spot (Septoria Ribis): This disease attacks the leaves only. It produces numerous small brown, irregularly shaped spots or patches on the leaves. This spotting causes a premature dropping of the leaves, often before the fruit is fully developed. Remedy: Spray early in the season, and again after harvesting the fruit, with Bordeaux mixture.
Injurious Insects. — 1. The imported Currant worm: The larva of a saw-fly attacks the foliage soon after fruit sets. The attack is first made on the lower leaves. From this point the worms work upward on the bush, stripping the leaves in their line of march. The worms are exceedingly voracious, and will defoliate a bush in 2 or 3 days. The mature insect is a saw-fly, which deposits its eggs on the under side of the leaf. Usually two broods occur during the season. Treatment: Spray with arsenical poison early. Bordeaux mixture and Paris green may be used in combination for the early spray. For the later sprays, fresh powdered hellebore, at the rate of 1 lb to 50 gal of water, is effective. The grower should not wait for the insect to make its appearance, but should ward off danger as soon as the leaves appear by spraying with Bordeaux mixture and Paris green, which will adhere to the foliage and be on the spot when needed. Other injurious insects are the Gooseberry fruit worm (Epochra Canadensis), which burrows into the green fruit, causing it to drop. Remedy: Destroy infested berries.
2. Currant borer (Psenocerus supernotatus): The larva of a moth. Eggs are laid near the tip of the cane, down the center of which the larva tunnels. Infested canes are readily detected. They should be cut out and burned. San Jose scale and four-lined leaf-bug are sometimes injurious.