Ground Cherries are Prolific

August 18, 2019 lawanda Uncategorized

The wet spring, the late June heat wave, the lack of pollinators, and a groundhog have conspired to make this year’s vegetable garden my worst ever.  I have had spectacular success with one plant though, and it’s a new one to my garden.

        I planted one ground cherry plant, an inch tall seedling purchased at a local nursery.  Today the plant covers about 25 square feet and it’s still spreading.  My research says that a single ground cherry plant can produce up to 300 fruits, but I think mine will surpass that since they bear fruit from late July until frost.

        Each fruit is enclosed in a husk, similar to tomatillos.  The cherries are ripe when their husks turn a papery tan and they fall to the ground.  It’s a bit challenging to find all the fallen fruits because the plant grows so densely. 

        Growing ground cherries in raised beds or even a large container makes for easier harvest.  Some people prefer to surround the stem with landscape fabric to make both harvesting and end of season clean-up easier.

        Ground cherries prefer rich, light, warm soils with good drainage.  They are heavy feeders so be sure to mix in a shovelful of compost and an organic fertilizer before planting.

        My ground cherry is only 6” tall but there are varieties that grow to two feet tall.  They can be prevented from sprawling with the use of small tomato cages. 

        You probably won’t have to plant ground cherries in subsequent years.  Volunteer plants will spring up everywhere from fruits that were missed during harvesting

        Husks are easily removed by peeling them back to reveal the golden yellow fruit about ½ inch in diameter.  Ground cherries have an unusual, hard-to-describe taste.  In my opinion, their sweet-tart taste is a mix of pineapple, cantaloupe and mild cheddar cheese, if you can imagine that. 

        Ground cherries are like tomatoes in that they sprout roots along their stems and should be planted deeply leaving a few sets of leaves above the soil line.  They can be started from seed indoors, about 6-8 weeks before the last frost, and transplanted outdoors well after all danger of frost has passed.

        Unlike tomatoes, ground cherries rarely suffer from fungal, bacterial, or viral diseases.  Most insects leave them alone as well, although flea beetles and white flies may find them, particularly if they are drought=stressed.  Water regularly and place a floating row cover over the plant if your garden suffers from these pests.

        Along with fresh eating, ground cherries can be made into jam, sauces, chutneys, salsas and preserves, baked into pies or tarts, or mixed into salads or pancake batter.

        Ground cherries can be stored in their husks on the counter top for a week or so, but then should be refrigerated.  They will keep several weeks.  They can be removed from their husks and frozen in zip-top plastic bags for future use.

Fruits and vegetables

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