Currant And The Gooseberry
( Originally Published 1909 )
The currant is one of the best of all small fruits for general cultivation for several reasons : It seldom fails to bear a good crop. It is very hardy, requiring no protection in winter, even at the extreme north. It is of such easy culture that anyone can grow it who is willing to give it a little attention. It is one of the most healthful of all garden fruits. And it is one of the housewife's standbys, being unsurpassed for jellies, jams, preserving, pickling, and spicing, its delightful and sprightly acidity making it an almost necessary accompaniment of many meat- dishes, with which a relish having a piquant flavor is demanded. For eating while fresh it is one of the pleasantest of all fruits with those who like something tart and juicy. The writer of this book much prefers it to the cherry.
Every garden should have a dozen or more bushes of it. With good cultivation this number of bushes will yield so generously that few families will need more.
The currant likes a rather heavy soil. One containing considerable clay suits it better than a light loam, but it will do very well in the latter. One thing it insists on, however, if you would have it bear good crops- of fine, large fruit, and that is, plenty of manure. It is a gross feeder, and no one need be afraid of using too much fertilizer in the currant patch.
Plants are easily grown from cuttings. Take half-ripened wood for this purpose. Cut it in six-inch lengths, and insert all but about two inches in the ground. In a short time roots will form. Set the plants thus secured in rows, in early fall, about a foot apart. Let them grow there until next season. They will be good, strong plants by fall. As soon as their foliage begins to show signs of ripening, set them in the rows where they are to fruit. There should be about four feet between the plants, and the rows should be six feet apart. Take up the young plants carefully, and make sure that the earth is packed firmly about their roots. Though there will be no more growth of top this season, they will be establishing themselves during the interval between transplanting and the coming of cold weather, and next year a fair crop of fruit can reasonably be expected from them. But a full crop cannot be expected until the bushes have attained greater size. It takes a currant about four years from the cutting to reach its prime.
Some advise training the plant as a standard —that is, allowing no shoots to grow from the base, but keeping it to one stalk. I prefer the bush form. I believe we get a much larger crop of fruit from it, and, in case of accident, the whole plant is not likely to be destroyed, as would be the case if it were trained to a single stalk.
I would advise letting at least half a dozen stalks grow from the base of each plant. After this number get a good start, I would rub off all other shoots that appear and allow no more to grow until next season. Then I would allow another half dozen to develop, with a view to removing the older ones, by and by, thus renewing the plant from time to time and keeping it strong and vigorous.
Each season I would go over each bush and cut out all weak wood, and thin it, if thick, so that air can circulate freely. This, with the removal from time to time of the older growth, is about all the pruning I consider necessary. At any rate, it is about all that my bushes get, and I am well satisfied with my yearly currant crop. I get large, perfect fruit in abundance, but it is the result of high feeding, rather than of any other treatment. Manure your currants well and pruning is a matter of secondary importance, except, as has been said, for the removal of weak wood and the purpose of occasional renewal. You cannot make any system of training and pruning take the place of manuring.
The ground about the bushes should be well worked and kept free from weeds and grass. This is a matter of very great importance. If the season happens to be a dry, hot one, it is a good plan to cover the soil with mulch. Moisture and coolness at the root are necessary to the development of a fine crop of fruit.
The currant-worm often destroys the season's crop in a few days if let alone. As soon as its presence is discovered, dust powdered hellebore over the entire plant. Care should be taken to get the fresh article. Old powder is generally worthless. Put it on the plants while they are wet with dew. Use it promptly and thoroughly, and repeat the operation daily, until not a worm is to be seen.
Sometimes the' currant-borer does a good deal of damage. If you find a shoot that seems lacking in vigor, and whose leaves have begun to turn yellow early in the season, examine its stalks closely, and in most instances you will discover the hole through which it has made entrance to the stalk. Cut away every such shoot. There is no application that will prove effective, as it will not reach the place where the borer is hidden away.
Below I give a list of some of the best varieties for the amateur:
Cherry. Very large, wonderfully productive.
Red Dutch. Large, rich, and fine flavored. Great bearer. One of the standard kinds.
White Grape. Considered the best white kind. Large, juicy, rich and sweet.
White Dutch. A very fine sort. Large, rich in flavor, and sweeter than any other kind.
Black Naples. Enormous berry. Sweet, with a peculiar musky flavor which some persons dislike, but which most persons will appreciate after a little, if they do not at first.
The gooseberry requires very nearly the same treatment as the currant. Care must be taken, however, to thin out the bush so that there will be a free circulation of air. If this is 'not done mildew will most likely result from dampness, and the crop will be a failure. The only effective remedy for mildew, so far as my experience goes, is flower of sulphur dusted over the entire plant while its leaves are damp. The open-head system of pruning is, however, in my opinion, the best preventive of this disease. That, and high feeding, which makes the bush so strong that it overcomes the disease by its own vigor. I would advise planting the gooseberry in airy locations, fully exposed to sunshine, but sheltered from cold winds and draughts, and keeping the ground cool by the liberal use of mulch.
Perhaps the best varieties are Downing, and Houghton's Seedling.