Grow your own antioxidants

At this time of year we may find ourselves wishing for the long summer days. Planting crops that capture the essence of summer can connect us with the flavours and colours of the season ahead. 

Currants are tolerant of many conditions and are easy to care for. You can plant them from now until the beginning of March and they can produce fruit for up to 20 years so are a really worthwhile addition to any plot.

Tips for red and whitecurrants:

Planting (Nov-March)

  • Whilst the bushes will favour good, well-drained soil they will still perform well in poorer soils. They can also tolerate light shade, making them suitable for planting in a forest garden setting. Windy sites and frost pockets will result in significantly reduced yields.
  • Buying 2 year old bare rooted plants from a reputable supplier is recommended. Pot grown currants can be planted year round. Recommended suppliers are Ashridge Trees or Walcott Organic Nursery
  • Currants require more space than you might expect, 3-4 foot apart (approx. 120cms) or if growing in containers, use a minimum pot size of 15l.
  • Keep the roots damp until planting and trim back any damaged ones. Plant into a hole that can comfortably accommodate the roots when they have been spread out a little. The soil line on the plant should be the same level as the topped up soil in the new hole. Firm the soil down around the plant.
  • Both colours are self -fertile so there's no need for pollination partners. One bush of each is plenty for the average garden or allotment.

Maintenance (For the first year after planting)

  • Keep the newly planted currants as weed free as possible and heavily mulched with organic matter (eg straw).This will help to supress weeds, retain moisture and provide nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.
  • When it comes to pruning see Ashridge Trees for some useful information.

Harvesting (Summer of year two)

  • Your currants should be ready to harvest in July and August the following year. Sniping the whole strings of fruit off makes harvesting really easy. The plants will become more prolific over time.

Now for the nutritional nuggets

Red, white and blackcurrants as well as gooseberries contain plant compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally occurring antioxidants, known for their all-round benefits to health. Blueberries have often been regarded as the best berry on the block, but blackcurrants and redcurrants, grown much closer to home are just as good.

Currants are rich in vitamin C which helps the body fight infections and keeps the immune system strong. Plus vitamin C is needed for healing wounds as well as repairing and maintaining bones and teeth. So make the most of any berries you find down the allotment or foraged locally. They also freeze easily so keep a stash in your freezer to use in smoothies, tarts, sauces and preserves.