BLACKCURRANT (Ribes nigrum)
Blackcurrants are claimed to be the ultimate “superfruit”, being more nutritious than twenty other fruits, including Blueberries and Goji berries, tested by the Scottish Crop Research Institute. They contain more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anthocyanins.
Blackcurrants are native to Central and Northern Europe. Britain is apparently the only country in the world where Blackcurrants are produced commercially, mainly for the production of fruit drinks. It is probably a legacy from the war years when it was difficult to import vitamin rich fruits, and alternative home grown sources were required.
As these are easy to grow, and very prolific bushes producing some 10-15 lb of fruit each, two plants should be enough for most families. Each plant needs about 1 square metre of ground, preferably in a sunny position. New plants should be planted deep enough so that the bottom of the branches are a couple of inches below ground. This will ensure that there is a steady supply of new branches coming from the base of the plant, each year. The ground should be fertile, as apart from the fruiting, about a third of the branches should be renewed each year once the plant is about three years old. In late winter, a light sprinkling of Potash round their roots, would be beneficial to encourage fruiting.
Blackcurrants are very shallow rooting and vigorous hoeing underneath the plants could cause damage to the roots. You could suppress the weeds by applying a thick mulch each year. Alternatively, consider planting through a porous weed suppressing membrane.
Blackcurrants need a long hard winter to synchronise their bud break in the Spring. This ensures even ripening of the fruit. In recent years, due to the mild winters, it has been found that the fruit ripens at different times on the bush and results in a poorer harvest and fruit quality. If this happens with your bush, you may need to have several pickings of the ripe fruit. If you are thinking about planting new bushes, avoid the varieties “Baldwin and Ben Lomond”, as they have been found to be prone to this problem.
Pests and diseases.
Mildew can be a problem, particularly on the variety “Ben Lomond”, but it can be reduced by choosing resistant varieties to grow, and keeping the plant open so that air can circulate freely.
Gooseberry Sawfly Caterpillars. They attack Blackcurrants as well as Gooseberries, given a chance. Spray as necessary as soon as they are spotted to control them.
Big Bud Mite, is a mite that lives in and feeds on the dormant Buds, over the Winter, and then on the opening buds in Spring. The mites can also transmit a virus that causes Blackcurrant Reversion Disease. Once the leaves have fallen, the diseased buds are easy to spot as they are enlarged and round, rather than the normal cone-shaped buds. Pick them off and burn them or cut out any affected branches and burn them. Also check over the bushes again for Big Bud in the Spring before the buds burst. Check to make sure that any Blackcurrant bushes in the neighbourhood, such as adjacent allotments, are not infected. If they are, it will be a disease reservoir for the area, and you should diplomatically try and bring it to the attention of the plotter.
Currant Blister Aphid This is a common pest of red, white and black currants. While it looks bad, it has little effect on the size of the crop and it is not necessary to treat it.
Remember to net the bushes against birds while the fruit is ripening. This also enables you to delay picking the fruit until it is really ripe and as sweet as is possible.
Pruning is carried out after you have picked the fruit. All weak and crossing branches should be cut out. Thereafter, once the bush is full grown, cut out about one third of the older branches from the base, each year. Take particular care to cut out any wood with big bud mite galls (swollen spherical buds). Normal buds are conical in shape.
Pick the fruit when it is really black, and feels soft between finger and thumb. Lift up the branch tip and you will see all the blackcurrants hanging down, ready just to pull off the branches. Lift up the tips of the branches with one hand and pick off the “strigs” or strings of berries with the other hand. You should be able to easily pick up to 10 lbs of fruit in an hour. There is no need to take off the individual berries, as you will probably be simmering the stalks and berries together when you are making jelly. You will be able to separate out the stalks, seeds and skins at the same time by using a “jelly bag”. See jam recipes.
The fruit can be used fresh with added sugar or sweetener, in muffins, tarts, fruit jellies and ice cream.
It can be stored by bottling, freezing, or turned into jams and jellies. See recipes.
Big Ben. A new, early variety with large fruits. The sweetest variety according to independent tests.
Ebony is a new, early variety to the catalogues with a mild, sweet taste, not mouth puckering compared to the traditional varieties. Still too early to rate it for the long term but early indications are that it has some resistance to Big Bud.
Ben Hope is a new, mid-season variety and claimed to have high resistance to big bud mite, rust, mildew and leaf spot. The bush is tall, vigorous and has medium size berries. Gave the highest yield in independent tests.
Ben Sarek is a dwarf, mid-season variety for the smaller garden, growing to about 1 m tall. Plant at 1 m spacing. It has very large fruit, ripening late July in the South, or early August in the North. From observations on my plot, it seems to have some resistance to big bud mite and mildew.
Ben Connan is a larger, mid-season variety some 1.5 m tall. Plant at about 1.5 m spacing. It has very large fruit which ripen mid-July in the North. Resistant to mildew.
Ben Tirran. A new, late season variety which is late flowering and may avoid frost damage to the flowers in colder areas.
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