Whether cooked when green, hard and tart, or eaten raw when sweet, juicy and ripe, gooseberries are a favourite of gardeners and birds alike. Gooseberries grow on bushes 90 to 120 cm (3 to 4 feet) tall and wide, and are one of the earliest fruits to ripen. A mature bush produces about 2 kg (4 to 5 pounds) of fruit. Culinary and dessert varieties are available, but one bush can produce gooseberries for cooking and for eating raw if the berries are harvested at different times. Gooseberries can range from traditional green, to white, pink and red varieties. Red gooseberries are usually green when young.
Protect gooseberries from birds in late April or early May by covering bushes in bird netting. Birds can perch on netting and peck at fruit through the holes, so support it away from the bush on bamboo canes pushed into the ground around the bush. Put small plastic flowerpots or jam jars on the top ends of the canes to prevent the netting catching. Birds can try to get beneath netting too, so secure it close to ground with large stones or similar heavy objects.
Pick gooseberries for cooking from late May to early June. Remove netting carefully so that it doesn't become caught on the bush and pull fruit off or tear. Either pick all the gooseberries or leave some to grow larger for later picking when fully ripe. For large dessert gooseberries later, remove about half the unripe fruit, evenly spaced over the whole bush. Replace the netting.
Pick dessert gooseberries in July when berries turn soft and juicy red varieties gain their colour. Remove the netting and harvest ripened fruit. Picking often takes place in stages over one or two weeks as individual berries ripen. Ripe gooseberries are liable to burst if squeezed, so pick them gently. Once all the fruit is harvested, bushes can be left un-netted, but replace netting in winter if bullfinches eating buds is a problem.
Wash fruit thoroughly before eating, and remove stalks and dead flower buds at either end. Gooseberries freeze well.
Most gooseberry bushes have thorns, so take care or wear garden gloves when harvesting.