Currants and Gooseberries Fit Nicely into Your Orchard Understory

Reader Contribution by Joshua Burman Thayer and Native Sun Gardens
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In Permaculture, we strive to design gardens to become “food forests.” This means that we design many vertical layers so that edible elements can fit together into one intensive growing area.

The easy part is choosing the “canopy trees”, meaning the taller elements which make the highest portion of the food forest.  Examples of these tall canopy trees would be apples, pears or avocados — they benefit from the full sun they can receive by being the tallest element in the garden orchard.

It is more challenging, however, to design plants that can produce food in the light shade below the canopy. Have some corner of your garden that is underutilized? Or perhaps an apple tree in the side yard that has empty space below it? This is where the Currant family can come in.

Species of the Currant family, known as Ribes spp. are capable of miraculously producing sweet berries, even in the mixed dappled light of the understory.

Currants generally get 3 to 5 feet tall and can be managed by pruning when dormant every two or three seasons. Look under your taller trees to see if there are pockets which receive a little bit of direct sun for some portion of the day. Even if only in the morning, the Ribes family is versatile and capable of creating edible abundance.

Under wet trees, such as avocado or apple, try:

• Black Currants, Ribes nigru
• Red Currants, Ribes rubrum

Dry shade areas, or under oaks, try:

• Hinnonmaki Red Gooseberry
• Golden Gooseberry, Ribes aureum

Learn more about currants and gooseberries at UMN Extension.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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