Growing currants on your homestead provides several benefits. A perennial plant that can be productive for up to ten years. currant is a very healthy fruit. Analyses conducted by the Agricultural Research Institute in Scotland have shown that black currant is the most nutritious of the twenty most popular berries and fruits in the world; one factor being they are rich in vitamin C. Currants are not too demanding to grow, and if you plant them on your homestead, you can make a good profit from them at the farmers’ market or local restaurants.
Origin and Appearance of Currants
Currants originate from Northern Europe and Northern Asia, where they can still be found as wild, native plants today. There are black currants (ribesnigrum), red currants (ribes rubrum), and white (yellow) currants. Black currant began to be cultivated around the world only in the 14th century, and in Western Europe it was cultivated as a medicinal plant. The first written information about the beneficial effect of currants comes from 1100 AD.
Currant fruits are small, juicy berries with an intense smell. Due to their specific, slightly bitter taste, black currants are better when eaten processed (I often make sweets from them) while red currants are usually eaten fresh.
Red currant fruits have a vibrant red color, a sour-sweet flavor, and are very good sources of potassium. White currants have yellowish-white fruits with very specific aromas and are very similar to red ones, but less acidic.
Black currant berries are the most medicinally beneficial. They strengthen the appetite and cleanse the body of harmful substances and are very rich in vitamin C. The flowers are yellow-green in the beginning and brown-red on the edges. The berries are also red-brown in the beginning, and when they reach their full maturity they turn black. Black currant fruits are oval in shape and arranged in small bunches. Their berries are larger than the red ones with a very specific scent.
The Basics of Growing Currants
If you want to grow currants at home, know that it is not that difficult but it still requires some steps regarding soil preparation and planting. Currants will give a good yield if you provide them with good conditions.
Currants give good yields on land from 320 to 880 yards above sea level. If your household is at an altitude of more than 1,100 yards, then it is best to choose a southern position due to higher air and soil humidity. Currants tolerate a certain amount of shade, so you can grow them as an intercrop in plantations of woody fruit species. Just remember that the shade of the terrain will contribute to the later ripening of currants. On my homestead, the currants are planted between cherry trees and are doing quite well, even though they are in partial shade. Also, several rows of raspberries are planted around them, but since currants start growing earlier than the raspberries, this environment does not bother them.
The ground for planting currants is prepared at the end of summer, and you can plant them in autumn or early spring. However, it’s best to decide on autumn planting, due to the early vegetation of the bush and the possibility of damage by spring frosts.
Cultivation System: Bush or Rows
If you decide to grow currants, know that there are several ways you can do it. You can grow them as a bush at a distance of 5 feet, and if you have decided to manually process the currants, then the distance can be even less—about 3 feet. Since my family has grown currants in the form of bushes for years, I can tell you from experience that a mutual distance of 5 feet between each bush is quite enough.
The hedge system in currant planting is simpler because it is easier to process and the yield is higher. Row spacing for hedgerows can be from 2-3 feet if mechanized harvesting and about 3 feet if hand harvesting.
Besides growing outdoors, you can also grow currants in greenhouses.
Soil preparation and planting
Plant the currant seedlings in rows extending north-south. The optimal distance in the plantation is 2 feet between the rows, which allows easy passage of mechanization. If you cultivate by hand, the space should be sufficient to ensure fertilization and harvesting. Plant more lush varieties of currants at a greater distance, so that they can develop properly.
Planting material should be healthy and well-developed. If the veins on the seedlings are too long, shorten them to 4-6 inches. Water the transplanted seedlings well and immediately.
The root system of currants develops in the surface layer of the soil. That’s why it thrives best on lighter and looser soils where the pH is 5.5 to 7.
Currant is a plant that is quite resistant to frost, but due to the early start of the growing season, it is sensitive to spring frosts which can damage the flowers. A temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient for the growth of most varieties. During the summer period, currants are sensitive to temperatures above 86 degrees F and drought.
Do not hoe the currants because they have shallow roots that are easily damaged. I usually weed them in the spring, and then 3-4 times during the summer as needed.
You can also sprinkle mulch or put foil around the currants to prevent weeds from appearing.
Irrigation: In the first year after planting, it is necessary to periodically irrigate the currants, during the period of fruit setting until harvest. The optimal amount is 6 gallons of water per bush. It is best to use a drip system. In case of summer droughts, you need to water the currants with 3 to 6 gallons of water per plant.
Propagation: Once you have established a plant, you can further expand it by propagating existing seedlings. You can do this in several ways: by grafting, dividing the bush, or cuttings.
For me, the simplest way is by taking the cuttings, and I used that method most often. Practice this method of propagation in autumn by taking cuttings about 5 inches long from healthy 1-year-old branches.
Cutting is done in order to remove old and weak shoots and to increase the yield of the crop because the most fruitful plants are 1-year-old and 2-year-old shoots. Always cut when the plant is dormant. Leave the healthiest shoots in the middle of the bush, and shorten the lateral ones to a height of 6 inches. After 3-4 years, older shoots give less and less yield and therefore you need to eliminate them.
Harvesting currants: Start picking currants when their fruits have a darker color and full flavor. Harvesting is usually done by hand. Ripe currant berries are soft to the touch. They usually ripen in 2-4 weeks, depending on whether they are planted in the shade or in the sun and on the weather conditions. If you pick all the varieties at once, know that the shelf life of red currants is about 20 days and black currants 10 days. If you have a large quantities, you should put them in the refrigerator.
Although all types are healthy, black currant has the advantage with its anti-cancer properties. Black currant berries contain antioxidants, three times more vitamin C than red currants, and more vitamin A than blueberries. Currants help stabilize blood pressure and they are recommended for anemia.
Currants are a very healthy fruit that you can grow for the needs of your homestead, but you can also try to sell them at the local farmers’ market or restaurants, either as fresh fruit or as processed products like juice and homemade jam.