Labelled as the ‘mini marvel’, British blackcurrants are possibly one of the healthiest fruits you can eat. They’re packed full of vitamins and minerals and have many health benefits. Modern breeding methods mean that blackcurrant plants are better able to tolerate frost, especially at the crucial flowering time and they also have better resistance to pests and diseases.
Some blackcurrant facts…
– they’re high in anthocyanins, antioxidants that fight disease. These may protect the body against ageing, cardiovascular disease, eyestrain, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, joint inflammation and MRSA
– they have grown in the British Isles for over 500 years
– they have been used by herbalists since middle ages to treat many ailments, including bladder stones, liver disorders and coughs
– they contain more vitamin C than any other natural food source
– they contain high levels of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamins A and B and more…
– they can reduce muscle damage during exercise, help to reduce inflammation and even boost natural immunity
– epigallocatechin, an antioxidant present in blackcurrants, has been shown to reduce inflammation in lung tissue, helping to control allergy-induced asthma
– new research led by the Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand suggests that “British blackcurrants are the secret weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.” (Quote source: The Blackcurrant Foundation)
Commercial growers have to be very selective when choosing a growing site – the plants are susceptible to spring frosts and summer wind can strip the flowers and fruit (plantations often sited next to woodland, otherwise natural windbreaks are grown using alder for planting in the field, but not common alder). Other suitable trees are pine, alder or birch for perimeter protection. They need to be planted on hill so that cold air filters downhill. Several other factors have to be considered to ensure the highest yield, such
However, home gardeners needn’t be quite so picky. You do need to site your blackcurrant bushes in a sheltered spot and protect them from frost, but they’re still very easy to grow. They prefer full sun, but will cope with shade for some of the day. Blackcurrant plants grow best in fertile soil, so dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost and plant them 5cm lower than the soil mark on the stem. This will encourage extra stems to grow from below ground level.
Thompson & Morgan supplies established, 1-year old pre-pruned plants. If you buy blackcurrant bushes that haven’t been pre-pruned, it’s a good idea to cut them down to 2 buds above ground level after you’ve planted them, so as to encourage new growth. Keep your blackcurrant plants well watered during dry periods and especially when the fruit is developing. Prune out any thin or weak shoots after the first season. In following years you should prune out any weak or damaged stems and also cut back 20% of the remaining stems to create an ‘open’ bush and encourage new growth.
Blackcurrants are ready to harvest from July, so if you’re already growing some, now is the time to get picking!
Jams and pies are probably the best known use of blackcurrants, but there are many other ways to use them. Some of the sweeter varieties such as Ebony are delicious eaten straight from the plant. Take a look at The Blackcurrant Foundation’s website for some tasty recipes, including blackcurrant ice cream, smoothies, salads (fruit and savoury), chocolate and blackcurrant torte and many more.
Blackcurrants freeze well, so if you find yourself with a bumper crop, simply wash them gently and put them into freezer bags and containers. A good tip is to freeze them on trays so that they don’t clump together – once they’ve frozen decant them into bags or containers and pop them back into the freezer. They’ll keep for months.
What’s your favourite recipe? You can send recipes to us to be featured on the Thompson & Morgan website – click here for more details. http://www.thompson-morgan.com/recipes
Pests and diseases
Birds are the biggest threat to your crops – cover your blackcurrant bushes with nets to protect the fruit from birds, so that you can start harvesting them from July.
Watch out for blackcurrant gall midge, where tiny white maggots feed on shoot tips. You’ll be able to see the maggots and, if you spot them early enough, you should be able to remove the infested leaves. Be careful that you don’t remove too many, otherwise you’ll reduce the harvest. Blackcurrant Ben Connan is resistant to gall midge.
Big bud mite can also be a problem for blackcurrants. You’re most likely to see evidence of it in the winter – infested buds will be abnormally swollen, whereas healthy buds are pointed and long. There are no chemical controls against big bud mite and any infected plants should be destroyed and replaced with new ‘certified stock’ plants.
Blackcurrant plants affected by American gooseberry mildew have powdery grey and white fungus on the leaves, which can also spread to the fruits. It’s made worse by poor air circulation, so make sure your plants are spaced well apart. Infected stems or leaves should be cut out and destroyed straight away.