Friday, January 14, 2011

Keeping up with currant events

It's been wet everywhere, and in the face of such  tragic destruction elsewhere it seems a trifle to worry about my berries, but for anyone with ripening fruit, this damp weather is rather ill timed. So, despite the warm drizzle, and the fact that all hell was breaking loose with the garden fairies jumping naked into their water-filled sandpit, I shut out all of the distractions and got stuck into picking the currants.

Right now we have red and black ones, along with a few young white currant plants producing only enough to be nibbled in the garden. From about square meter of neglected garden I've harvested almost 4 kilos of black currants from 4 plants. We got 5 kilos from the same area last year, so I think a good weed, prune and mulch is in order. Some of these will probably be frozen whole for making a medicinal brew, we simmer the currants with ginger, sage, thyme and fenugreek seeds and then add a little honey and lemon juice to chase away Winter colds. The rest will be turned into a syrup, for which I am still trying to find a recipe that I like....You can make a gorgeous jelly from them, kids love them straight from the garden, and I have heard of sorbet made with an infusion of blackcurrant leaves.

The rewards of neglect. This untended part of the garden has ample cover for our little pest controllers. Frogs are largely carnivorous and will clean up loads of garden nasties. The surfactant in some herbicide preparations, that is designed to help the poison penetrate the weed plant leaves, may also break down the skin of frogs.

Then the red currants. The blackbirds found these and there aren't many, so I think a bit of red currant ice cream for the garden fairies will be lovely. If I had more, I'd love to make a red currant jelly, which is so useful in the kitchen. My mum glazes scrumptious strawberry shortcakes with it, my pet chef (husband) deglazes pans with red wine, after cooking duck, wallaby or venison, then adds a generous dollop of the jewel like jelly. The kids and I slather it on hot toast. And I love to have a sprig or two of the stunningly beautiful, translucent berries to drape over the Christmas pudding. We have plans to move the plants into a netted garden this Winter where they will be protected from feathered thieves.

Currantly (sorry!) we have red and black currant plants ready for sale. Get them in now and they'll put on some good growth ready to produce a modest first crop next Summer. They are easy to grow. and they get to about a meter and a half high. Space plants around 1m apart if planting in rows. They do best in a well composted and mulched garden bed, with some protection from the hottest afternoon sun in warmer areas. Pruning is important, but the thing to remember is that red and white currants fruit on 2 or 3 year old wood, they need to be pruned so as to preserve older wood while encouraging lateral growth and maintaining an open branch structure.

Black currants generally fruit on 1 year old wood, so old fruiting canes can be pruned, leaving  the current years new growth, and making room for the next years growth. Having said this, we haven't pruned ours for a number of years, and they are cropping ok. 

In a months time there will also be plants of the divine Silvan berry ready to plant. This one is like a perfect, giant blackberry with a rich, winey, tangy flavour. Mmmmm! So find a corner for this one, it needs plenty of room and support, and heavy pruning at the end of each season, but it will produce fruit over a couple of months from mid December. And yesterday I divided 30 little white fraise des bois, which I find even more delicious than their red cousins. These should be ready in a month or two.

We'll be down at Tas Farm Gate with currant plants, and many others on Sunday the 23rd of January. Hope to see you there!!
Our most exciting current event is the hatching of 5 little chicks. 3 Barnervelder and 2 Rhode Island Red cross Barnevelder. So cute!

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