Redcurrants

How To Grow Currants; Black, Red And White

Blackcurrants are easy to grow, versatile and full of vitamin C

Blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) are native in northern Asia and central and northern Europe whereas redcurrants (Ribes rubrum) are common over large areas of Europe. Whitecurrants are not a separate species, they are an albino form of redcurrants, but they are generally smaller and sweeter than the red. Currants have a wide variety of uses and freeze well, lasting for up to 6 months. They make fantastic jams and jellies, setting really well due to the high pectin content. Sorbets, pies, cheesecake, summer desserts and cassis also bring out the best in blackcurrants, which make a wonderful accompanying sauce for fatty meats, such as duck and lamb.

All the currants are relatively easy to grow and will produce a decent crop with very little care, but if you do take the time to prune and feed then your crop will be greatly increased. They are rich in vitamin C, especially the blackcurrants, contain a good amount of vitamin B1, iron, manganese, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Currently there is research being carried out into their properties for fighting neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease and certain cancers.

They are self-fertile so you need only plant one bush but they do need insects for pollination. One bush should yield about 4.5 – 6.8kg (10 – 15lb) of fruit if it is maintained properly.

Position

Choose a sheltered, sunny site in well-drained, humus rich soil. If you have sandy or heavy clay soil enrich with organic matter, such as well-rotted farmyard manure and good quality compost. This will provide moisture retention in the light soils and open up the structure of the heavy soil enabling better drainage. They will grow in a lightly shaded spot but really need as much sunshine as possible to ripen the berries; a shady spot can also lead to weak, spindly growth. They can be trained against a wall or fence if space is at a premium. Some of the more compact varieties can be successfully grown in containers provided they are large enough. Don’t plant in a windy site otherwise pollinators may find it difficult to fly.

Planting

Plants can be bought in autumn/winter as bare root specimens and planted as soon as you buy them or buy a potted plant which can be planted at any time of the year. Planting in autumn when the ground is warm enables the plant to put out some roots and lets it get an early start in spring. Buy from a reputable source which will be certified free from virus. Prepare the ground thoroughly before you plant. Dig a hole approximately twice the width of the roots and deep enough to plant the currant 5cm (2”) deeper than it has been; this will encourage the formation of new shoots from the base. Fork in some well-rotted farmyard manure and a handful of a balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore. Back-fill the hole and firm in, water well. Plant them about 1.5m (5’) away from each other in rows 2.5m (8’) apart.

If planting in a container choose one which is at least 45cm (18”) deep and diameter. Place a piece of crock over the hole to prevent it blocking with silt. Use John Innes No 3 compost which contains enough food for the first year.

Aftercare

Keep them damp, not enough moisture in late spring/early summer will result in small, dry berries when they should be nice and plump and juicy. But too much water when they are ripening will split the fruit. Weed by hand, as using a hoe near the plant can cut off the new basal shoots. If frost is predicted when they are flowering just throw over a piece of horticultural fleece or an old net curtain. The blackcurrant varieties with ‘Ben’ in their name flower later than some of the others and so are more likely to escape being nipped by frost.

Mulch with well-rotted farmyard manure in late autumn and feed in late winter/early spring with a balanced fertiliser. When you mulch remember to keep it a couple of centimetres away from the stem.

Prune them in late autumn/winter, take out all the old stems as these don’t usually bear much fruit. Keep 6 – 10 of the current season’s growth, keep the centre of the plant open to deter pests and infections. Prune out any dead or spindly stems and any which are growing low to the ground.

If your currant is growing in a container repot every 3 years; take out all the old compost from between the roots and trim the roots back if the container is congested. Repot in John Innes No 3. In the years between repotting mulch with well-rotted farmyard manure and feed as if growing in the ground.

Blackcurrants

Harvesting

It depends upon the variety as to whether you harvest the whole string in one go or individual berries as they ripen. Harvest in dry weather as they will soon rot and go mouldy if harvested wet.

Problems

Birds are a real problem, especially pigeons, as they will eat almost the whole plant, the young leaves, buds and especially the berries; blackbirds absolutely love them. The only solution is to grow your soft fruit in a fruit cage.

Sawfly lay their eggs at the base of the plant which then hatch into larvae and crawl up into the foliage, which they can chomp off in a single night. Keep the plant pruned to an open goblet shape as the larvae usually head for the shelter of the centre. Be vigilant and pick off the small green caterpillar-like larvae; you can spray with a food safe systemic insecticide but the damage is usually done before it takes effect. Remove any leaves from underneath the bushes and keep the ground lightly forked over.

Blackcurrant gall midge transmits a virus which is fatal for the plant so make sure you buy from a reputable supplier whose stock should be guaranteed free from the midge. The maggots feed on the young shoots and the only remedy is to pick off the shoots and destroy them. Once the fruit has been harvested pull up and destroy the bushes, replant with certified stock in autumn. ‘Ben Connan’ and ‘Ben Sarek’ have been bred to be resistant.

Big bud mite infests the buds and the only solution is to pick off the buds, again it is important to buy certified clean stock. ‘Ben Hope’ has been bred to be fairly resistant.

Mildew is a grey powdery residue on stems and leaves. Cut out and destroy any infected stems, don’t put them on the compost heap. Don’t plant bushes too close, keep the plant pruned to an open structure and make sure that they don’t dry out.

Poor yield can be the result of a couple of things; bad weather when the insects should be pollinating, too dry early on in the season, birds eating the buds and fruit, big bud mite or lack of pruning.

Varieties

Blackcurrant
Ben Connan’  -  compact, ideal for growing in a container, large good flavoured berries, good mildew resistance
Ben More’  -  heavy cropper, late flowerer so less chance of being frosted, fruit ripens evenly so you can harvest the whole string

Redcurrant
Raby Castle’  -  developed around 1820, good quality berries

Whitecurrant
White Grapes’  -  late flowerer so less chance of being frosted, good flavour  

Blackcurrant Sorbet with Cassis (courtesy of Rose Elliot)

  • 450g (1lb) fresh blackcurrants
  • 150ml (5fl oz) water
  • 125g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 6tbsp cassis
  • 1 egg white, whisked to stiff peaks (optional)
  1. Place the blackcurrants and water into a saucepan, cook gently for 15 minutes until the fruit is soft.    
  2. Blend and sieve. Reserve 3tbsp of the puree. Place the remainder in a plastic container in the freezer until the edges are frozen. Take out of the freezer and whisk in the egg white (this makes a lighter sorbet); if not using the egg white just mash the mixture with a fork.
  3. Pour the mixture back into the container and freeze until solid.
  4. Remove from the freezer 30 minutes before serving.
  5. Combine the reserved puree and cassis to make the sauce.

Blackcurrant sorbet dessert

Cassis

  • fresh blackcurrants
  • vodka
  • sugar
  1. Wash and dry the blackcurrants and fill a sterilised glass jar to the top.
  2. Cover with vodka, screw on the lid and leave in a cool dark place for 4 – 6 months.
  3. Pour the contents of the jar into a large pan and mash with a potato masher to extract all the juice.
  4. Filter through sterilised muslin or a coffee filter and return to the pan.
  5. To each 500ml (17.5fl oz) of liquid add 500g (17.5oz) sugar and 125ml (4.4fl oz) of vodka.
  6. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly, skimming any foam off the top.
  7. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has started to thicken take it off the heat.
  8. Pour into sterilised bottles, there is less chance of the glass cracking if the bottles are warm.
  9. Store somewhere cool and dark.

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Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas