By GEOFF MIERS
Wanting something a little exotic, tasty and easy to grow then consider planting a Cape Gooseberry, often referred to as the “Golden Gems” plant.
They are are small fruits, 2.5 to 3 centimetres in size (the size of a cherry tomato), and they grow on a small fast growing bush.
While the plant is considered a perennial it is best treated in Alice as an annual as they do not like frost, and will die once temperatures drop to below minus 2 to 3 degrees.
Having said that if planted in a warm protected location they can survive really cold spells. I’ve seen many plants over the years that have not or only slightly been affected by quite severe frosts.
The Cape Gooseberry is a native plant from South America being introduced to England in 1774 and later to the Cape of Good Hope before 1807 and soon after to Australia.
The Cape Gooseberry is soft-wooded, a somewhat vining plant usually growing to 60 to 100cm high. In good conditions they can grow to over 1.5 metres.
The plant has heart-shaped nearly opposite largish leaves up to 15cm long and has attractive bell shaped, nodding flowers being yellow with dark purple brown spots in the throat.
Once the flowers fall a straw-coloured husk forms and inside can be found the fruit. These fruit take between 70 to 80 days to mature. The fruit is a berry with smooth, waxy, orange-yellow skin, are very aromatic, and the juicy pulp inside contains very small yellowish edible seeds.
As the fruits ripen they can drop to the ground but will continue to mature turning from green to golden-yellow.
Cape Gooseberries are self pollinating.
However pollination can be improved by giving the plant an early morning gentle shake. A light short misting with a fine spray of water will also improve pollination.
The plants like a sunny, frost-free location preferably sheltered from strong winds. It will grow well against a northern facing wall or in the protective confines of a patio garden.
The Cape Gooseberry grows best in well drained sandy or gravelly soils as it hates wet feet and root rot can occur if the soil is over wet. They do however require consistent watering to ensure they crop well.
Cape Gooseberries thrive on near neglect and grow well in under fertilised soils. In fact a well manured soil will promote excessive vegetative growth at the expense of good flowering and fruiting. High yields are best obtained when little of no fertiliser is given.
A small amount of organic fertiliser maybe incorporated into the soil prior to planting and an application of potash at flowering will improve fruit quality and size.
While the plant is young pinch out the new tips to promote a compact bush, otherwise little pruning is required unless an attempt is made to grow the plant on a trellis which isn’t really required.
Cape Gooseberries have few pest and disease problems although in moist or humid conditions powdery mildew can be a problem. Wet feet can result in root rot, and several pests can attack the plant including the cut worm, fleas beetle, aphides and white fly. All these pests are easily manageable.
Fruit is generally harvested when it drops to the ground, although dropping fruit can be at varying stages of maturity and they should be gathered and allowed to fully mature.
Cape Gooseberries are best left in their brown papery protective husk, they will last and store much longer in this state.
The fruits can be eaten straight from the Cape or made into Gooseberry jam. They can be added to salads, desserts and cooked dishes and they are most delicious when stewed with apples or dipped into chocolate. Try an apple and gooseberry pie or tart, you’ll love it.
They can also be dried and become tasty raisins, or can be used in savoury dishes with meats and seafood. Cape gooseberries have a high pectin content thus making it a great fruit to turn into preserves and jam.
Gooseberries grow well in both the ground or in pots. In a pot I plant them into premium potting mix for best results.
Growing in a pot you have the advantage of moving them as the weather conditions change. When its stinking hot move them to a lightly shaded location, when frosts are pending move them to a warm protected frost free spot.
They will grow in full sun, light shade and part sun and part shade. They are really a great small plant that can be accommodated in even the smallest of gardens.