Late June and into July is gooseberry season in the UK. Like so many lovely berries and veg, it’s a short season that just has to be enjoyed. But finding a gooseberry for sale seems tricky: these tasty fruits seem to have gone out of favour. Plant your own! Read on to find out how easy they are to grow and use in even the smallest garden.

gooseberry

Plant a gooseberry bush and grow your own tasty berries. Sarah Buchanan

Growing gooseberry bushes

For one bush you need either a very large (0.5 metre, 18inches diameter) pot or a space about 1m (3 feet) square or round.

Ideally buy a two- to three-year-old bush which has a good shape of three to five main branches and a clear stem of 10-15cm (4-6in) high.

Plant container-grown plants as soon as you buy them in good deep soil with plenty of well rotted garden compost in the garden or in a large pot. Bare rooted plants for sale in the autumn should be planted before spring.

To create a good fruit crop, feed gooseberry bushes in late winter with a balanced granular fertiliser at 100gm per sq m (3oz per sq yd). Don’t use a high nitrogen feed as this can encourage soft growth, prone to gooseberry mildew.

Gooseberry bushes in the garden rarely need watering after the first year. In pots, water regularly to prevent the soil drying out but don't waterlog the soil.

Gooseberries can be grown as standards (making it easy to pick the fruit) or cordons. These need pruning and training – but it's not difficult and these trained plants look good.

Problems

Not many!

Birds sometimes eat ripe berries. Put up bird scarers or spread fine netting over the fruiting stems.

Sawfly will eat the leaves. Pick off and squash the larvae, and don't add nets or bird scarers before fruits are ripe and you will encourage birds to do the job for you.

Gooseberry mildew leads to a powdery grey / white fungus on leaves and stems and sometimes on fruit. Cut out and destroy infected stems and leaves as soon as you see the fungus. Reduce the risk by ensuring air can circulate through the bush: keep weeds at bay and don’t plant bushes too close together.

The biggest problem is the thorny stems: wear good gloves when you work with the bushes and pick the fruit.

Choosing gooseberry varieties

Invicta: a white berry good for cooking and with good resistance to disease.

Whinham’s Industry: a red dessert or cooking gooseberry that is happy on a heavy soil.

Leveller: a yellow berry that is perfect for desserts and has good resistance to disease.

My Mother reckoned every home should grow gooseberries, and that none needed more than three. Why not plant one of each of these three varieties?

Cooking with gooseberries

Depending on weather, gooseberries are ready to pick from mid/late June into July. Pick green, under-ripe, berries to make into jam, pies, tarts, and sauces. When you do this, pick every other fruit on the stems, leaving the rest to swell to ripe, sweeter berries to gather in July for desserts. Pick ripe berries carefully as they can be quite soft and may burst.

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Leave some gooseberries to ripen. Here photographed by Lis Burke for geograph.org.uk and licensed for re-use.

'Top and tail' the berries (which means pulling off and discarding the dry ends), wash the berries, and they are ready to cook (or freeze without further preparation if you can't use them for a few days after picking).

My favourite gooseberry recipe

Gooseberry and strawberry jam: these fruits go so well together. The gooseberries provide the pectin the strawberries lack so the jam sets easily. The colour is wonderful and the taste - well, it is the taste of summer!

Top and tail 500gm gooseberries and put into a large saucepan or preserving pan with 3 tablespoons water.
Simmer until soft, then add 500gm strawberries (the small ones at the end of the season are perfect) and cook gently for a few minutes. Gently stir in 1kg of white sugar until dissolved, then boil rapidly to reach setting point.
Allow the mix to cool slightly and stir to mix the fruit in, then pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal. And enjoy when summer is a memory on rainy winter days....

For a range of sweet and savoury gooseberry recipes try the BBC collection here.