By Gina Marzolo, graduate student of agricultural sciences, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, firstname.lastname@example.org, February 2016.
Edited by Dan Lee, communications specialist – College of Agriculture, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, email@example.com, February 2016.
There are two types of gooseberry plants: American (Ribes hirtellum) and European (Ribes uva-crispa). Fruit from the American cultivars are smaller, but are more resistant to mildew. The American cultivars are also usually healthier and more productive than the European cultivars. European cultivars tend to have larger fruit and are said to be more flavorful (Cornell University, 2015). American gooseberries are native to northeastern and north-central United States and the adjacent regions of Canada. European gooseberries are native to the Caucasus Mountains and North Africa (CRFG, 1996).
Gooseberries are often similar in size and flavor to grapes (Barney and Fallahi, 2009). The skin of gooseberry fruit is translucent, and, depending on the cultivar, their color can be white, yellow, green, or red (Tepe & Hoover, 2015) (University of Idaho, 2016).
Many fruits use the common name “gooseberry.” However these other fruits are distinctly different from the ones discussed in this profile. The most common fruits that have a similar name are: Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana), Chinese gooseberry (also known as Kiwi) (Actinidia spp.), and Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica) (Blackstone, n.d.). For this reason it is important to know and use scientific names.
Many publications caution that producers should secure the market before establishing “minor” fruit crops such as gooseberries. (Bratsch & Williams, 2009) (University of Kentucky, 2012). However, gooseberries are considered a “specialty” crop and can be a very rewarding commodity to produce (University of Kentucky, 2012). The marketing season for fresh gooseberries is from the beginning of June up until early August, but most varieties will not produce fruit for that entire timeframe (Bratsch & Williams, 2009) (Eat The Seasons, 2012).
Gooseberries have a high potential for fresh market sales for a few different reasons: gooseberries are said to be the most shelf-stable berry handled commercially (McKay, 2006); and they are also very aesthetically pleasing and therefore lend themselves well to farmers’ markets and grocery store displays. Some customers might be reluctant to purchase a fruit they’re not familiar with, so having free literature describing the fruit and its uses can be helpful (Ames & Greer, 2010).
One way to add value to fresh gooseberries could be starting a U-pick operation. On a U-pick farm, customers harvest the produce themselves. This can allow the farm to save on labor costs during harvesting. Often U-pick operations will supply a farm stand with already picked product for people who do not have the time, ability or want to pick their own product (University of Tennessee – Extension, 2014). If you decide to offer a U-pick operation, make sure to take advantage of free advertisement through sites such as pickyourown.org, which provides listings of local farms providing U-pick services.
Another way to add value to gooseberries is to process them. Gooseberries keep well if frozen, and they have been processed into many different products including, but not limited to jams and jellies; fresh juice products; wine; and even yogurt (Bratsch & Williams, 2009) (Dinstel, 2013).
A 2012 article written by the University of Kentucky estimated the price for fresh gooseberries at $3.60 per pound (University of Kentucky, 2012). Oregon Specialty Fruit Company sells eight 15-ounce cans of green gooseberries through Amazon at the price of $32.44; and Northwest Wild Foods sells frozen gooseberries (red and green) at $34.99 per three pounds (Northwest Wild Foods, 2015) (Oregon Specialty Fruit, 2016).
In the early 1800s a “gooseberry craze” was prominent in Europe, with the trend extending to the United States around the same time (mostly in the northeastern United States) (Purcell and Ridge, 2013) (Cornell University, 2015). By the early 1900s, New York was growing approximately 2,700 acres of the fruit. Unfortunately, also in the early 1900s, the growing of gooseberry and related currants became federally banned because of a fungal disease called white pine blister rust, a deadly disease for all species of white pines (which includes the ancient bristlecone pines). The fungal disease requires two hosts to complete its life cycle: white pine and most commonly Ribes ssp. [with black currents (Ribes nigrum) being the most susceptible] (Cornell University, 2015) (USDA, Forest Service, n.d.). The damage from the fungal disease is minimal to gooseberries and currants, but most often leads to tree mortality in white pines (USDA, Forest Service – Brochure, n.d.).
In 1966, the federal ban was shifted onto individual state jurisdiction, and most states (except some northern states) once again allowed the production of gooseberries and currents (USDA, Forest Service, n.d.). Currently, some states still ban all Ribes species, or enforce a permit system for the production of Ribes, while others only ban Ribes species that are not resistant to white pine blister rust. Check with your local extension office to see what regulations might be in your state or region (TheGreenerGrassFarm.com, 2015).
Gooseberries grow best in areas with humid summers and cold winters with adequate chilling hours (800-1,000 hours between 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit) (CRFG, 1996) (Raintree Nursery, 2015). In California gooseberries grow rather well in the cooler areas of the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the outer Coast Ranges and coastal northern California. Due to its dry summer heat, gooseberries do not do well in Southern California unless grown in higher elevations. Currently there is no data on the viability of gooseberries grown in a greenhouse operation, but gooseberries can be container grown with appropriate care (CRFG, 1996).
Properly managed gooseberry plants can produce fruit up to 15 years, and on average produce six pounds of fruit per plant (University of Kentucky, 2012).
Exports/Imports/United States Consumption
Since gooseberry is a re-emerging fruit crop, there is currently no United States export, import, or per capita consumption data available.
Pruning is one of the most important management practices when growing gooseberries. Pruning keeps the canopy of the plant open, thus allowing good air circulation, helping to prevent certain diseases such as powdery mildew. Pruning also helps keep the plant productive with fruit growth. Species of Ribe produce fruit at the base of one-year-old wood, and most fruit production come from spurs that are two and three years old (Cornell University, 2015). All cultivars of gooseberries have some degree of thorns, and for this reason pruning also helps with ease of harvesting, which in the United States is done by hand (Bratsch & Williams, 2009).
According to a paper published in HortTechnology, “Planting and establishment practices for currants and gooseberries are similar to those for blueberries. Fewer nurseries carry commercial quantities of Ribes, however, and the cost of planting stock can be higher per unit than for blueberries” (Barney, 2000).
- A Farmers Guide to a Pick-Your-Own Operation, University of Tennessee – Extension, 2014.
- Ames, G. & Greer, L., 2010. Pawpaw: A “Tropical” Fruit for Temperate Climates – Marketing, A National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance Program (ATTRA).
- Barney, D.L., 2000. Commercial Production of Currants and Gooseberries in the Inland Northwest and Intermountain West of the United States: Opportunities and Risks, HortTechnology, 10(3).
- Barney, D.L. & Fallahi, E., 2009. Growing Currants, Gooseberries & Jostaberries in the Inland Northwest & Intermountain West, University of Idaho – Extension.
- Blackstone, V.L., Types of Gooseberry Plants, SFGate.com, n.d.
- Bratsch, A. & Williams, J., 2009. Specialty Crop Profile: Ribes (Currants and Gooseberries), Virginia State University – Cooperative Extension.
- Currants, Gooseberries, and Jostaberries, University of Idaho – Extension, 2016.
- Eat Gooseberries, EatTheSeasons.co.uk, 2012.
- Forbidden Fruit 2: State by State Legality of Gooseberry and Currant Berry (Laws regarding plants in the Ribes genus), TheGreenerGrassFarm.com, 2015.
- Gooseberries and Currants, University of Kentucky-College of Agriculture – Cooperative Extension, 2012.
- Northwest Wild Foods – Gourmet Berries (Fresh Frozen Red Gooseberries), NWWildFoods.com, 2015.
- Northwest Wild Foods – Organic Berries (Organic Green Gooseberries), NWWildFoods.com, 2015.
- Oregon Specialty Fruit, Gooseberries, OregonFruit.com, 2016.
- Pickyourown.org. – This website provides local listings of pick-your-own farms in the U.S. and other countries, as well as crop calendars for each local area.
- White Pine Blister Rust: Disease Cycle and Alternate Hosts, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Forest Service, n.d.
- White Pine Blister Rust (Brochure): What You Can Do to Slow the Spread, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Forest Service, n.d.
Links checked October 2018.