When to pick gooseberries and how to encourage the best crops

When to pick gooseberries and how to encourage the best crops

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Gooseberries are not only delicious but, they are good sources of vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin B. You can make anything from jams, chutneys, pies and salads if you enjoy being in the kitchen. If you already own a gooseberry bush or intending to own one but are unsure when to pick the fruit, this is the article for you!

Do you know the best time to pick gooseberries? In this guide, I will explain when to pick gooseberries according to your intended purpose as there is not just one perfect time to pick them, it really depends on what you using them for.

For example, gooseberries harvested around June are not entirely ripe which makes them suitable for jams or tarts but to eat fresh, they need to be picked later. There is more information on these delicious fruits below, so let’s get into what you really need to know.

When is the perfect time to harvest gooseberries?

Gooseberries are usually sweet fruits that thrive in well-drained soils and plenty of sunshine. They do not take much effort to grow, and they have a lifespan of over a decade if well maintained and occasionally pruned. Gooseberries need winter pruning to boost harvests that come in July. However, you can also prune after picking the fruit around August by cutting back this season’s soft growth to two or three leaves above the base. This usually helps prevent mildew. Personally, I like to winter prune as it is easier to see what you are doing and I have had lots of success from doing it this way.

Pick gooseberries twice

Ideally, you want to harvest gooseberries twice, first in June and then around July or August. The first pickings in June remove the under-ripe fruits, which are absolutely perfect for cooking.

Removing these under-ripe fruits also known as thinning allows the other fruits to grow to optimal size. The final harvest is around July and August is when the fruits are fully ripe.

How to tell if the fruits are ripe enough for the final harvest

Ripe gooseberries ready for picking to eat fresh

You can tell if the fruits are ready just by touching them and the noticeable colour change depending on the variety. They are usually soft to the touch and if you bite into them, the entire fruit is sweet. Another indication would be birds showing up to pick the fruits. It is usually blackbirds, however, you may want to harvest your gooseberries before they take them all or install a protective netting if you’re not quite ready to harvest them.

How to harvest gooseberries

When picking gooseberries, you must be careful because gooseberries obviously have sharp thorns. To avoid pricks and scratches, I highly recommend wearing some gloves whilst working. Check if the fruit is ripe to your specifications by tasting them, as it is the best way to do it. Some like their gooseberries with a bit of sourness while others want them sweet, so pick accordingly.

Picking gooseberries

Pick the berries you need and deposit them in a container for cleaning. If you have several bushes that need harvesting and you don’t have the luxury of picking them one by one, try shaking them. Place some canvas or plastic paper at the base of the bush and shake the plant releasing all the loose fruit. Place the fruits in a bucket and commence cleaning.

Gooseberries cleaned ready to store

If you don’t have space in the freezer, leave some of the fruit attached to the plant to retain freshness. Once you pick the amount you need, wash them and store them in the freezer for long-term preservation. If you plan to consume them in a few days just store them in the refrigerator in a clean container. In the fridge I find they last around 2 weeks.

Read next: How to stop lemons dropping fruit early

Protecting gooseberry bushes from birds and sawflies

If you notice an increased bird activity in your garden, the gooseberries are probably ripe. Apart from the delicious fruits, birds also love consuming new buds so this is something to keep in mind. You want to protect the new buds because they are crucial in the next season’s harvest. If the buds are damaged, then the next harvest will certainly be reduced.

I advise finding a fine mesh net or fabric that will protect both the fruit and the new buds. This type of barrier lets the plants breathe while offering protection from unwanted predators.

Gooseberry sawfly can be a real problem

Gooseberry sawfly (Nematus ribesii)

Gooseberry sawflies are another issue to look out for because they strip the plants of their leaves, literally overnight. Gooseberry sawflies look like regular caterpillars, only their coats are shinier. They eat through the leaves to give them enough energy to mature into adult sawflies. If left unattended, they infest the whole bush causing mass leaf loss. You should use insecticides to reduce the infestation; however, the insecticide has to be non-toxic and marked as fruit safe, as you will consume the fruits later.

Check for fungal infections such as mildew

Fungal infections, usually mildew are common in gooseberry bushes, especially if not well ventilated. A common fungus that affects gooseberries is gooseberry mildew and this affects the stems, leaves and fruits. An infected plant presents leaves with greyish-white patches, which eventually turn brown. It also consumes the new shoots and develops small fruiting bodies in autumn and summer.

Gooseberry bush with mildew

Treatment of gooseberry mildew includes the removal of the affected parts and the use of ‘myclobutanil’ fungicides. In addition, it is important to foster good ventilation by occasionally pruning the bush and clearing unwanted debris/weeds at the base of the plant. If you grow them in an open windy site, this can also help prevent mildew especially if correct pruning is done and the plant is open towards the centre to allow good airflow.

Final Conclusion

With over 150 varieties of the gooseberry plant, anyone can add them to their garden and there is plenty of choices. Just make sure that the variety you get is suitable for the climate, some more tender varieties are best grown further south.

Also, water gooseberries adequately during summer and locate them in a windy area to avoid fungal issues as previously mentioned. Use potash instead of fertilisers if you want to increase the fruit harvest. This is because fertilisers often encourage more leaf foliage which attracts sawflies whilst potash encourages more flowers and fruit.

With that said, take care of your gooseberry bushes and every July you will have a bountiful harvest fit for kings.

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