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Cape Gooseberries

Cape Gooseberries (Physalis peruviana) are big, shrubby plants, annuals in at temperate regions and a perennials in the tropics. The plants are frost tender and are killed at temperatures of about -1 Celsius degrees (30 F) so if you live in a temperate region is better to grow them in a greenhouse to make sure you get a nice crop. The plants are easily grown in pots and adapt well to greenhouse culture.

The fruits have smooth, waxy, orange-yellow skin and juicy pulp containing numerous very small yellowish seeds. The golden-yellow fruits are about the size of a cherry tomato and are deliciously sweet. As the fruits ripen, they begin to drop to the ground, but will continue to mature and change from green to the golden-yellow of the mature fruit. 

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They like a sunny, frost-free place, sheltered from strong winds, so they will do well if planted next to a south-facing wall or on a patio. They will grow in any well drained soil but will do best on sandy to gravelly loam. Very good crops will be obtained on rather poor sandy soil then in rich one. The plant needs consistent watering to set a good fruit crop, but don’t like a waterlogged soil, so where drainage is a problem, the plants should be planted on a gentle slope or the rows should be mounded. When the fruits are maturing, the plants will no longer need constant watering. The plants become dormant during drought.

Excessively rich or fertile soil will give you attractive, green plants but with few blooms and few berries. For this reason, no fertilizer or soil amendment is recommended. Even moderate fertilization will encourage excessive vegetative growth and depress flowering. So you will obtain high yields with little or no fertilizer. Pruning is not necessary unless the plant is being trained to a trellis. Pinching back of the growing shoots will induce more compact and shorter plants.

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The plants are mostly grown from seeds and will produce fruits in the summer as long as you sow them early in the season, just like tomatoes for indoor or outdoor growing. High humidity is required for good germination. Sow three seeds to a small pot and pinch out the weakest ones, leaving just one healthy plant per pot. The young plants can be repotted as necessary into a larger pots and kept well watered. The young plants can be hardened off and planted out in late May or early June or kept and grown on in the greenhouse. In areas where frost may be a problem, provide the outdoor plants with some overhead protection and move the potted specimens to a frost-secure area.

The plants can also be propagated from 1 year old stem cuttings treated with a rooting hormone. Plants grown this way flower early and yield well but are less vigorous than seedlings.

The fruits are harvested when they start to fall to the ground, but not all fallen fruits may be in the same stage of maturity and must be held until they ripen. The covers turn papery when the fruit is fully ripe. Properly matured and prepared fruits will keep for several months. The ripe fruits can be eaten raw or used in a number of other ways. They make interesting ingredients in salads and cooked dishes. Cooked with apples or ginger they make a very distinctive dessert. The fruits are also an attractive sweet when dipped in chocolate or other glazes or pricked and rolled in sugar. The high pectin content makes cape gooseberry a good preserve and jam product that can be used as a dessert topping. The fruits can also be dried.

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