Berries Production Guide

Currants & Gooseberries
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This section was updated - 23 April 2012

Site Selection

Currants and gooseberries are among the most hardy berry crops. As they will tolerate winter temperatures as low as –35oC, they can be grown in all but the most extreme growing regions of BC.

Because they bloom early in the spring, they are susceptible to blossom frost. Avoid south facing slopes which encourage early blooming. Also avoid low areas with poor air drainage which create frost pockets.

Soil

Determine the soil pH and nutrient status before planting. Have the soil tested at least six months before planting so that amendments can be added as the field is prepared. Consult a soil laboratory or contact the BCAGRI for a factsheet on soil sampling.

Soil should also be tested for nematodes. Fumigation may be required if Longidorus, Xiphinema or other virus vectors are present.

Currants and gooseberries can be grown successfully on a wide range of soil types provided drainage is good and fertility is adjusted and maintained. They will yield poorly on heavy, clay or poorly drained soils. Soil should be slightly acidic with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5. These crops are somewhat tolerant of drought, but will yield more reliably on most soils if irrigation is provided.

Site Preparation

Proper land preparation is a critical step in successful production. Start to prepare the field for planting the year before. Consider the following:

Wireworm Control

Check for wireworms in sites previously planted in sod. Plan for control (see “Wireworms” in “General Berry Pests” section).

Weed Control

Control established perennial weeds such as quackgrass, horsetail and Canada thistle before planting.

Drainage

In areas with poorly drained soils, sub-surface drainage should be installed 0.8 to 1.2 m (2.5 to 4 ft) below the soil surface. Refer to the “BC Agricultural Drainage Manual” for more information. Drainage systems work only as well as they are designed, installed and maintained. Use management practices that promote good drainage. Raised beds help to overcome problems with high water tables but are not a substitute for a drainage system. Other ways to promote good drainage include: incorporating a small amount of sawdust in the beds before planting, covering raised beds with sawdust mulch, cover cropping between the rows, and periodically subsoiling in the wheel tracks of harvesters or tractors.

Field Layout
Black currants


If mechanical harvesting is planned it must be allowed for in the layout plan. Mechanical harvesting requires a minimum of 3.5 m (10.5 ft) between the rows. Provide a 4.5 to 5.0 m (15 to 16 ft) wide row break every 125 m (400 ft) for unloading harvesters and other machinery. Most harvesters require 7.6 to 9.0 m (25 to 30 ft) at the ends of rows (headlands) to turn around.

The risers or posts for overhead irrigation should be no higher than 2.1 m (7 ft) and placed in the centre of the row.

If hand harvesting, row spacing can be reduced to 2.5 to 2.7 m (8 to 9 ft).

Red currants/Gooseberries

Red currants and gooseberries are normally spaced 2.4 to 3 m (8 to 10 ft) between rows.


Soil Amendments

pH. Check and adjust soil pH before planting and every 3 to 4 years after planting. The optimum pH is 5.5 to 6.5. If pH is below 5.5 lime should be applied and incorporated well before planting.

Fertilizer. Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) do not move in the soil. If soil test levels are low, broadcast and incorporate required P and K in the row before planting.

Manure and compost. Manure and compost are valuable sources of crop nutrients and organic matter. They contain nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and several micro-nutrients. Manure can be used prior to planting as a partial source of nitrogen, but timing of application and balancing manure with other sources of nutrients is essential. Refer to sections on “Manure Use” in this guide.

Planting

Spacing

Between rows. See “Field Layout” above.
Between plants.

Black Currants

Plants should spaced 0.5 to 0.75 m (1.5 to 2 ft) apart if mechanical harvesting is planned. For hand harvest, a wider spacing of 1.2 m (4 ft) should be used. Compact varieties such as Ben Sarek and Ben Connan can be planted at a spacing of 1 m (3 ft).

Red Currants/Gooseberries

Spacing will depend on the training system to be used. If grown in a bush form a spacing of 1.2 m (4 ft) should be used. Various cordon-type systems can also be used, (training plants onto supporting wires), which require a spacing as close as 0.5 m (1.5 ft).

Planting

Planting can be done in the fall or spring. However, in colder areas, spring planting is preferred to avoid losses due to frost heaving. In coastal areas, fall planting enables earlier plant establishment.

Generally, one-year-old, bare-root nursery-grown plants are used to establish a planting. Some growers have successfully established black currant fields by directly sticking hardwood cuttings in beds mulched with black plastic. Plugs may also be used.

Set plants at the depth they were planted in the nursery or slightly deeper. Gently spread the root system of bare-root plants. Fill in the soil and press firmly around the plant to maximize soil-root contact.

Each cane should be pruned back to two buds after planting. Spring-planted plants should be cut back shortly after planting. Fall-planted plants should not be pruned until late winter. Heavy pruning will encourage growth of strong first year shoots. Irrigate after planting if possible.

Fertilizing

No fertilizer should be put in the planting holes. Plants set out in the fall should not receive any fertilizer until the following spring. Fertilize when growth begins in the spring or 3-4 weeks after planting and again in early summer. Use caution when fertilizing young plants. Keep fertilizer about 10 cm (4 in) from the base of the plant. Spread fertilizer thinly and evenly to slightly beyond the drip line. Do not fertilize during hot weather or when the soil is dry. Refer to “Nutrition” in “Established Plantings” for further details and rates.

In the year of planting, use a complete fertilizer to supply N at about 50 kg/ha (24 kg/acre) and P and K according to soil test values.

Cover Crops

Cover crops in currants and gooseberries are usually permanent grass covers between the rows. They suppress weeds, provide support for farm machinery, improve soil structure and water infiltration and reduce soil erosion. Grasses that work best are low-growing perennials that are easy to establish and do not creep. Mixtures should contain no more than 25% perennial ryegrass to minimize mowing. Pure stands of sheep fescue or hard fescue establish slowly but withstand traffic well and require less mowing.

Seed in early to late spring or early fall (mid-August to early September). Seed mixtures at 30 to 55 kg/ha (12 to 22 kg/acre) and fescues at 30 to 45 kg/ha (12 to 18 kg/acre). Irrigate to establish grass covers or time seeding with rainy periods. Mow cover crops regularly during the growing season to control annual weeds. Unmowed cover crops can attract field mice. Control cover crops that creep into the row by applying herbicides in a band along the edge of the cover crop beside the sawdust mulch.

Sawdust Mulches

Mulching keeps the soil cool, aids in water conservation, increases organic matter in the soil, improves soil structure and helps control annual weeds. Apply 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) of sawdust to the surface of the bed the first year and every two to three years to maintain the mulch. The roots tend to grow into the mulch.

Microbial activity, which decomposes the sawdust, takes nitrogen from the soil. Nitrogen application rates may need to be increased by 25 to 50% in the first few years if sawdust is used.

Avoid using woodwaste that contains cedar unless the volatile oils have been removed or the material is well composted. Any woodwaste containing high levels of bark, especially hog fuel, should be checked for salts.

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