Winter pruning of blackcurrants

A well managed blackcurrant bush can provide quite a harvest in a year with more than enough to meet the need of the kitchen and very often surplus to freeze for the winter months. If left to their own devices though they get overcrowded, begin to crop poorly and become prone to viral diseases and gall mite.

Some people ‘prune’ out the heavy fruiting branches during the summer prior to picking as it can make harvesting easier but this can result in the wrong branches being removed. Instead I find winter pruning is better as it helps maintain the vigour of the plant and means the plant remains a productive part of the fruit garden for much longer. Aside from it being a handy winter garden task when the rest of the vegetable garden has slowed down, the leaf drop means it’s easier to see the overall structure of the bush.

The objective of winter pruning of blackcurrants is to try and create a light airy upright habit and shape with as much of the last seasons new growth available (as these will be the main fruit bearing branches in the new season). To do this you will need to carefully select and remove the branches that are causing congestion at the base of the plant and those that are cluttering up the upper levels of the plant.

An hours clever and careful winter pruning of a neglected blackcurrant bush can be very successful, and whilst the pruning required may initially reduce the crop in the following season, in future years it will pay you back in spades, or should that be crumbles, ice-creams and jams.

What You Will Need

Tools

  • Secateurs
  • Lopers or  a small pruning saw

Step 1

Look closely at the unpruned bush. Try to pick out the crowded or stagnant areas and look for the main growth and stems that will contribute to a bowl structure, also identify those that cause poor air circulation.

Familiarise yourself with the different types of growth. The new shoots (which will fruit next year) will have smooth bark the colour of strong tea. Second year growth will have already have fruited in the last season. The bark will be a rough grey colour and it may carry a loose bunch, or strig, of fruit stems.

The bark of third year growth is black and rough to the touch. These will not have borne fruit in the last season but many will be carrying the important second and first year growth.

Step 2

Start pruning by cutting out the weak and congested whips from the centre of the shrub. Whilst these could bear fruit in the coming season the crop will be poor and their growth will reduce air circulation and promote disease. Also remove and burn any diseased branches.

Step 3

Identify the third year growth that is either unproductive (ie not carrying a good crop of second & first growth) or doesn’t contribute to the overall upright habit and shape of the bush. Lop this out as close to the ground as possible.

Step 4

Remove any branches that cross over and are rubbing. These run the risk of damaging the bark and encouraging disease

Step 5

Prune out any second year growth that either is not supporting good first year growth or is not adding to the overall shape of the bush

Step 6

Finally scatter some good organic granular fertilizer around the base of the plant and then mulch it with some good quality homemade compost.

Preserving Chilli Peppers – The Chilli Ristra

This year I’ve had quite a glut of chilli peppers, not that I’m complaining, I adore chilli peppers! Most years though I’ve usually eaten them as they ripen and very rarely have to concern myself with preserving (if only the I could say the same about courgettes… I swear there’s a courgette fairy who wanders around with a small bicycle pump inflating young fruits so cropping becomes an hourly task!).

 

This year however I find myself with more than enough to cook with and plenty of spare ones, not least in part to a twitter friend, Craig, @wegrownourown, who sent me seeds for some slightly more different varieties. I’ll no doubt blog on them when I’ve recovered from the impending taste test.

 

Anybody who knows my kitchen antics will know that whilst I enjoying taking time over cooking, primarily due to the bottle of wine that gets opened, I’m not one for long preparation techniques, and the same can be said of my preserving methods… none of this blanching, drying and bagging for me, its straight in the freezer and fingers crossed in most cases.

 

As such so I took a look into methods of preserving chilli peppers that wouldn’t prove too onerous. I’d seen strings of dried chilli peppers hanging in photographs of  expensive looking kitchens when I stumbled upon a copy of Country Life in the waiting room of a local Kwik Fit… yes it surprised me too, some how Kwik Fit & Country Life don’t really seem like uncomfortable partners. This was reinforced by the burly grease monkey who took it from me and furtively pushed it into his rucksack muttering “….its my mums”

 

Anyway, the concept seemed simple enough, harvest them with enough stalk, take a length of fishing line and a large needle and then string them together. Once done, hang them in a warm, light, well ventilated position and watch them dry. The Chilli Ristra –  what could be simpler!

 

All you need do then is check that none start to go mouldy before they have dried, if so then remove those ones, but ultimately you just leave it hanging there until you need some for cooking with…. and to top it off, I read that in some countries its consider good luck to have a ristra hanging around the place… I hope it brings me some and refills that wine glass once more.