Saturday, March 2, 2013

Growing Cape gooseberries



The Cape gooseberries growing in pots with the Iceberg roses beside the swimming pool in my mother's garden in Constantia are vastly superior in flavour to the ground cherries I grew on our leaky roof last year.

Both fruit are Physalis. My ground cherries ("Aunt Molly's") were very sweet with a slightly funky aftertaste, and good to include in fruit salads. This Cape gooseberry, above and below, had a startlingly rich sweetness, with an edge. Excellent for baking into crumbles. The Cape gooseberry fruit was also much larger, more than thumbnail-sized, whereas my ground cherries (er...roof cherries?) were more like pinky nail-sized. Finally the Cape gooseberries were a rich orange, as opposed to the sightly khaki-nuanced yellow of the ground cherries.

In habit the Cape gooseberry is a small shrub with rather slender vertical branches, while the ground cherry sprawls, with horizontal and rigid branches (actually quite good for windy conditions, now that I think of it).

I wanted my mother's gooseberries for my roof farm. What to do, since nowhere could I find Cape gooseberry seed?


Pick my own.


So I did, and collected the seed, and now I have an envelope-full.

I may have to send some to a man in Japan who asked nicely for them, although it was never quite clear to which Physalis he was referring. In return, he said, he would send me "Oriental' vegetable seed, from his own allotment.

This year will be quite a gardening challenge. Vince and I will be away in late May and June while two wildly over qualified cat sitters - Amy Stewart (whose latest book is The Drunken Botanist) and the beloved dinahmow, returning for her second New York stint, from Australia - will look after Monsieur Le Chat and the terrace garden.

So I will start things horticultural in April and May, and hold my breath through the wonderful growing months of late spring and early summer, while we are absent and experiencing autumn and early winter in Cape Town, something I have not done in eighteen years.

Amy and Dinah will be able to escape from this tiny apartment and enjoy roses and lilies on the tiny terrace. But we are requiring no one to go up to the roof to tend the farm - it's too much to ask, as access is not straightforward, and so Vince will rig a temporary and simple irrigation system, so that water at least can be controlled from the terrace...

When we return, there may be gooseberries.

13 comments:

  1. Marie- we have a strange gooseberry infestation at the moment, I wish I could post you a few dozen plants!
    They have been springing up in all our pots, and vigorously outgrowing the intended occupants.
    Maybe we can still find a tiny plant for you to smuggle back....just incase :) x

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    1. oops- It's me- didn't realise Annabela's profile was logged on.

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  2. I grow them in Poland, they're very tasty, a bit sour and a bit sweet :)

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  3. Marie, start some in a pot for the terrace as I can easily keep an eye on them. Besides, I've had no end of hassles with them here, so am curious to see how your seed fares.
    The nasty lance head hoppers ate the leaves and the poor bush was forever re-leafing itself and had no energy for fruit production.

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    1. Am so glad - and a tiny but jealous! - that you are returning to the den of Don Estorbo. Hope you will love NYC in the early summer, too.

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  4. To my knowledge, there is only the one named cultivar of the cape gooseberry, Aunt Molly, but I am thinking as they come readily from seed, collecting them from your mom's is an excellent way to get a selection with the preferred traits. I will note however that the size and flavor may be affected by terroir similar to grapes. the 'Aunt Molly' I grew last summer were easily 5/8" in diameter, made for a great cobbler or crisp. We grew them pesticide/herbicide free, and had a record hot summer. They got all the well water they would want growing in a loamy clay. The water tends to have a high mineral content, making it impossible to actually cook dry beans to a soft state because of mineral content (cooing beans calls for using distilled water at this location). So maybe cape gooseberries respond to terroir as well.

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  5. Here is a link for Cape Gooseberry seeds. We had a lot of ground cherries in our garden (Detroit) last year. From your description, maybe I should try these this year!

    http://rareseeds.com/giant-cape-gooseberry.html

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    1. Thanks, Jack - I had forgotten about that source!

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  6. Also - try Kitazawa seeds online. They call it Poha berry (Hawaiian) but I believe it is the same thing.

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  7. If you're getting small, insipid fruit, you may want to try growing your gooseberries in a larger pot, with some live worm castings in the potting mix. Worms and the forest floor ecosystem they bring to container mixes help cycle organic nutrients in pots, converting them into plant-available form. They also add beneficial fungi, and gooseberries, like blueberries, need these fungal symbioses to thrive.

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  8. The fruit of the ground cherries were very sweet - I just did not like their flavour very much. Good idea about the worm castings. I have worms in some of my pots but they arrived on their own...

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  9. When are cape gooseberries ripe? I'm thinking about trying to incorporate them into a wedding...in September...in PA. :)

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    1. if they grow locally they should be available from late summer through fall. But I have seen them rarely in the states(Garden of Eden had them, and I've seen ground cherries at farmers markets).

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