This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Decidedly the Gooseberry ranks first. Nowhere in the world does the Gooseberry grow to such perfection as in Great Britain. Not only so, but few fruits are so useful; for it is used for making sauce and tarts and jelly when green, for jam when ripe, and it also forms a grateful and wholesome dessert fruit in the latter state. Its uses are so well known that we need not enlarge upon them.
Any good garden soil suits it, but it always pays to treat it well. In order to do it justice, the ground should be trenched at least two spades deep, and liberally manured with stable-yard manure. This may be done any time in winter, and the bushes planted in spring; but we prefer, especially on newly-taken-in soil, to take one crop of early Potatoes off the ground first, and then to plant in autumn. The working of the Potatoes gets the ground into excellent condition for Gooseberries; and when they are planted on finely prepared soil, from the middle of September to the middle of October, and mulched, they root at once and make a fine start the following spring. Plants put out in spring, especially on new, not very well prepared soil, do not make nearly so good a start (even although the season should prove favourable) as when put out under such conditions as we have named; and instead of gaining a season there is often a loss, for bushes which get stunted once, are ill to start into good growth afterwards. Our advice, then, is to trench in winter, take a crop of early Potatoes in summer, and work them well.
After the crop is off", fork the soil thoroughly (if light, tread it lightly when dry), and plant the Gooseberry-bushes late in September or early in October, putting afterwards a couple of spadefuls of manure over the roots to keep out frost in winter, and drought in spring and summer. They should not be nearer in the row than 5 feet, and 6 feet should be allowed between the rows.
If possible, plants with one-foot stems should be chosen, which are very much better than those whose branches spring from the surface of the ground. In planting them, the soil should be taken out and the roots spread out in the same way as advised for fruit-trees. Huddling the roots into holes too small to allow of their being properly spread out should be avoided.
The soil should be made firm round their roots; and if the spot on which they are planted is exposed to high winds, each plant should be securely fixed to a stake in a manner, and with material soft enough, that no damage to the bark of the stem or branches may result.
They are often planted in rows round walks, and alternately with Apple and other trees. In such positions they do very well, and serve to economise space; but the fruit will be better in quality if the bushes are in open quarters, for they are not quite so good under the shade of other trees. For tarts and other purposes for which green Gooseberries are used they are equally good. Our advice, however, is to put everything in quarters by itself, for thus a rotation of crops can be carried out, and this should always be kept in view.
Young plants only should be planted; and in order to lay a good foundation for the future bush they should be cut pretty well back. We prefer globular-shaped bushes, with the branches regularly disposed all over the globe at a distance of from 8 to 14 inches. It is of much importance that the sun and air penetrate to every part of the bush, and therefore growths and spurs alike must be kept clear of each other. Some people prefer cup-shaped bushes, but there is no use having some square feet in the centre of each bush unoccupied with branches. It is a waste of space, and no compensating good follows the practice; and with branches thinly disposed, the sun and air penetrate freely enough to produce first-rate results. As nearly as possible all branches should point directly and straightly from a common centre. Branches crossing each other, or crooked and twisted, should not be tolerated.
The Gooseberry bears on spurs which are produced freely on the old branches, and also on young wood. The best fruit is always on the young wood, more especially when the spurs on the old wood are allowed to grow in great thick crowded masses. Most Gooseberry-bushes in cottage gardens are in this latter state. We never yet met the owner of a Gooseberry-bush who did not consider himself a "don" at pruning Gooseberries. The universal plan among cottagers (we are sorry to add, sometimes professional gardeners) is to snap off every young shoot, and they thereby deprive themselves of any good Gooseberries that might have been produced. The crowding spurs they never touch - it is not in their plan. The result is, year after year, a great swarm of miserable fruit, which, although numerically very great, is as a crop (by weight) very small. Still the quantity is matter of much joy, and even pride.
We have described how not to prune. Everybody with eyes can see the resulting failure; but it is simple, and hence its general adoption. The best way is also simple, but requires more mental application. It is, in the first place, to keep all spurs thin and close to the main branches. They should never extend more than 1 or 2 inches, else crowding will result, and crowding means miserable produce. The second rule is, to retain as much young wood as possible. For this purpose all terminals should be left nearly full length. Only the small or crooked points should be removed in those which grow upright, and only the portion of the drooping kinds which point downwards. Still, crowding must not be allowed. To secure a continual supply of young wood without overcrowding, there must be a continual cutting out of old branches, and a continual bringing forward of younger branches to take their place. At the same time the bushes are not to be kept low. Gardens may be restricted laterally, but few are so vertically. Then grow your bushes to the height of 6 feet or more if you can. One 6-feet Gooseberry-bush is worth three 2-feet ones, and occupies no more space. Some kinds may be got to that height without much trouble.
But there are others again, and these some of our best sorts, which will not grow upwards at all. The branches of such kinds should be tied to hoops supported by strong stakes. Summer pinching should be practised in the case of the Gooseberry just as much as in the case of other fruit-trees - indeed more so, for they are more prolitic of shoots, and therefore every one which is not needed should be pinched to one or two leaves as soon as it has grown 6 or 7 inches. At the same time, the very strong shoots which often spring from the centre of the bushes should be twisted out. When the shoots are this length, the points are often attacked by green-fly in such numbers that they can grow no further, and the general health of the bushes sutlers. Their excrement also fouls the fruit. When pinching is done, large numbers of shoots with the infesting insect are removed, and the remainder is therefore more easily dealt with. The best plan that we have tried for getting rid of them is to crush the point of each shoot between the finger and thumb when we are pinching the shoots.
As we go over the bushes two or three times in this way, we manage to rid the bushes effectually of this troublesome insect.
There is another yet more troublesome insect which may be got rid of in the same way : it is the destructive Gooseberry caterpillar. Just at the time the shoots need pinching, the caterpillars are hatching, and whole broods are confined to one leaf. A quick eye will detect these leaves, and the young caterpillars may be destroyed at once before doing any damage. "When the attack is moderate (and it will only be moderate in isolated gardens when they are systematically kept down), this is the quickest and most satisfactory method we know of for getting rid of the pest. And when they do come in hosts, it is much easier to get at them when the shoots are pinched, and therefore thin, than when the growths are crowded. When the pest comes in swarms, the best cure is to slightly dust the bushes when they are wet with Hellebore-powder, or the powder may be mixed with water and sprinkled on to the bushes while they are dry with a whitewash brush. Perseverance in the use of Hellebore will soon destroy them.
Stragglers late in the season, when the fruit is ripe or ripening, may be got rid of by hand-picking.
On good soils, Gooseberry-bushes which are well treated to begin with, will thrive for twelve or fifteen years without much more in the way of manure. It always pays, however, to be liberal with them, and an occasional dressing of manure pointed into the surface at the annual digging - not always practised by cottagers, but recommended here - will prove of benefit. When urine can be obtained, one pailful spread over the roots after the ground has been dug over in winter, will keep up a vigorous fertility. If applied fresh, it kills the aphis which winters on the roots, and does no harm to the bushes. The soil absorbs all the manurial properties of the urine, so no fear need be entertained of the rains washing its virtues away before it can benefit the bushes. Only the growing roots can extract its virtues from the soil. This fact should be generally known, as the opposite notion prevails.
Undernoted are a few of the best kinds for general cultivation, and also some of the largest exhibition Lancashire kinds.
* Early Sulphur, *Langley Park Green, * Pitmaston Greengage, Honeybloke, * Crown Bob, Hedgehog, * Warrington, Ironmonger, Whitesmith; and for jam, * Scotch Red.
The following are the heaviest: White? - * Antagonist, Careless, and Overseer; Reds - * Beauty, Clayson, Conquering Hero, Dan's Mistake, and * London; Yellows - * Catherina, Great "Western, and Levels; Greens - * Drill, Stock-well, and Thumper. Those with an asterisk are best.