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Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Currant. The currants grown for their fruit in America are derived mainly from two species, namely, the European red currant, Ribes vulgare (R. rubrum) (Fig. 1151), and the European black currant, R. nigrum (Fig. 1152). There are two promising American species, of which few, if any, improved varieties have been introduced, the swamp red currant (R. triste) and the wild black currant (R. floridum). Another American species of which at least one named variety has been offered for sale is the Buffalo or Missouri currant (R. aureum) (Fig. 1154), also grown because of its ornamental flowers. The currant is not known to have been under cultivation before the middle of the sixteenth century. It is not mentioned by any of the ancient writers who wrote about fruit, and was evidently not known to the Romans.

Currants are natives of comparatively cold or very cold climates; hence most varieties succeed over a very wide area in America. They are among the hardiest of fruits from the standpoint of resistance to cold or changes of temperature, but in hot and dry sections they do not thrive, and, on this account, are unsatisfactory in parts of the southern states. The currant is not so generally used in America as some other fruits, as few persons care for them when eaten raw, and when cooked they are usually made into jelly and consumed by only a comparatively small proportion of the people. In the coldest parts where other fruits do not succeed well, the currant is more popular, and is used much more generally. It is a wholesome and refreshing fruit and deserves much more attention than it receives at the present time. The currant does not vary so much when grown from seed as most cultivated fruits, and, being so easily propagated from cuttings, it has not been improved so much as it otherwise would have been. Moreover, size in currants was not of great importance until recent years, when competition in marketing has become keener. It is only during the past fifty or sixty years that many new varieties have been introduced. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, few named sorts were recognized, the currant being generally known simply under the names black, red and white.

Propagation of currants. The usual method of propagating currants is by means of cuttings. These root very readily and good plants are secured after one season's growth. The best time to make the cuttings is in the autumn, as currants begin to grow very early in the spring, and once the buds have swollen they cannot be rooted successfully. Wood of the current season's growth is used. This may be cut early in the autumn as soon as the wood has ripened, from the end of August to the middle of September being the usual time. It should be cut in as long pieces as possible to save time in the field, and put in a cool moist cellar or buried in sand. If the cuttings can be made at once, it is best to do so. These are made by cutting the wood into pieces, each about 8 to 10 inches long, although an inch or two more or less is not of much consequence. The base of the cutting should be made with a square cut just below the last bud. There should be at least ½ inch of wood left, above the top bud of each cutting, as there should be a strong growth from the upper bud, and if the wood is cut too close it is liable to be weakened. A sloping cut is best for the upper cut, as it will shed rain better, but this is not important. When made, the cuttings should be planted at once, which is usually the best plan, or heeled in. If heeled in, they should be tied in bundles and buried upside down in warm well-drained soil, with about 3 inches of soil over them. The object of burying them upside down is that by this method the bases of the cuttings will be nearer the surface where the soil is warmer and there is more air, and will callus more quickly than if they were further down. The cuttings should callus well in a few weeks, and may then be planted outside, if thought advisable. Cuttings may be kept in good condition over winter by heeling-in or burying in sand in a cool cellar, or after callusing under a few inches of soil outside, they may be left there over winter if covered with about 4 to 5 more inches of soil to prevent their drying out. Good results are secured with the least trouble by planting the cuttings in nursery rows as soon as they are made. The soil should be well prepared and should be selected where water will not lie. Furrows are opened 3 feet apart and deep enough so that the top bud, or at most two buds, will be above ground. The cuttings are placed about 6 inches apart on the straight side of the furrows and soil thrown in and tramped well about them. When only a smaller number are to be planted a trench may be opened with a spade. It is important to have a large proportion of the cutting below ground, as more roots will be made and the plants will be stronger. There would also be danger of the cuttings drying up before rooting if too much of the wood is exposed. If the season is favorable the cuttings should callus well and even throw out a few roots by winter. Where there is little snow in winter, it is a good practice to cover the tops of the cuttings with about 2 inches of soil, which will be a good protection for them. This soil should be raked off in spring. In the spring, cultivation should be begun early and kept up regularly during the summer to conserve moisture and favor rooting and the development of the bushes. By autumn they should be large enough to transplant to the field. In Great Britain and Europe, currants are often grown in tree form and are prevented from throwing up shoots from below ground by removing all the buds of the cuttings except the top one before planting in the nursery. This system is not recommended for most parts of America as it has been found by experience that snow breaks down currants grown in this way, and when borers are troublesome it is not wise to depend on one main stem.

Most of the cultivated varieties of currants have origjnated as natural seedlings, little artificial crossing having been done with this fruit. Currants grow readily from seeds, and it is easy to get new varieties in this way. The seeds are washed out of the ripe fruit, and after drying, may either be sown at once or mixed with sand and kept over winter in a cool dry place and sown very early in the spring. The best plan is to sow them in the autumn in mellow well-prepared and well- drained soil, since when this is done they will germinate very early in the spring, while if sown in the spring the seed may be all summer without sprouting. The seed should not be sown deep, from¼ to½ an inch being quite sufficient. If sown very deep they will not germinate. The young plants may be transplanted from the seed-bed to the open in the autumn of the first year if large enough, but if the plants are very small they may then grow another season, when they should be planted out at least 4 by 5 feet apart, so as to give them room enough to fruit for several seasons, in order that their relative merits may be learned. If intended to remain permanently, the plants should be at least 6 by 5 feet apart. The bushes should begin to bear fruit the second or third year after planting out. Each bush will be a new variety, as cultivated fruits do not come true from seed. If a seedling is considered promising it may be propagated or increased by cuttings, as already described.

The soil and its preparation. Currants should be planted hi rich soil in order to get the best results. The soil should also be cool, as the currant is a moisture-loving bush. The currant roots near the surface; hence if the soil is hot and dry the crop will suffer. A rich, well-drained clay loam is the best for currants, although they do well in most soils. If the soil is not good, it should receive a good dressing of manure before planting, which should be well worked into the soil, the latter being thoroughly pulverized before planting is done. A northern exposure is to be preferred, as in such a situation the currants are not likely to suffer in a dry time.

Planting. The best time to plant currants is in the autumn. If planted in the spring, they will probably have sprouted somewhat before planting, and on this account their growth the first season will be checked. When the soil is in good condition, currants, especially the black varieties, make strong growth, and the bushes reach a large size; hence it is best to give them plenty of space, as they will do better and are more easily picked than if crowded. Six by 5 feet is a good distance to plant. If planted closer, especially in good soil, the bushes become very crowded before it is time to renew the plantation. Strong one-year-old plants are the best, but two-year- old plants are better than poorly rooted yearlings. It is better to err on the side of planting a little deeper than is necessary than to plant too shallow. A good rule to follow is to set the plants at least an inch deeper than they were in the nursery. The soil should be well tramped about the young plant so that there will be no danger of its drying out. After planting, the soil should be leveled and the surface loosened to help retain moisture.

Cultivation. As the currant, to do well, must have a good supply of moisture, cultivation should be begun soon after planting, and the surface soil kept loose during the summer. While the plants are young the cultivation may be fairly deep between the rows, but when the roots begin to extend across the rows, cultivation should be shallow, as many of the roots are quite near the surface.

Fertilizers. After the first application of manure, no more should be necessary until the plants begin to fruit, unless other crops are grown between, after which an annual top- dressing of well-rotted barnyard manure is desirable. When only a light application of manure is given, the addition of 200 to 300 pounds to the acre of muriate of potash would be very beneficial. Wood-ashes also would make a good fertilizer with barnyard manure. There is little danger of giving the currant plantation too much fertilizer. Unfortunately, it is usually the other way, this fruit being often very much neglected. Pruning. The black and red currants bear most of their fruit on wood of different ages; hence the pruning of one is a little different from the other. The black currant bears most of its fruit on wood of the previous season's growth, and it is important always to have a plentiful supply of one-year-old healthy wood. The red and white currants produce their fruit on spurs which develop from the wood two or more years of age, and it is important in pruning red and white currants to have a liberal supply of wood two years and older; but, as the fruit on the very old wood is not so good as that on the younger, it is best to depend largely on two- and three- year-old wood to bear the fruit. A little pruning may be necessary at the end of the first season after planting in order to get the bush into shape. From six to eight main stems, or even less, with their side branches, will, when properly distributed, bear a good crop of fruit. Future pruning should be done with the aim of having from six to eight main branches each season and a few others coming on to take their places. By judicious annual pruning, the bush can be kept sufficiently open to admit light and sunshine. A good rule is not to have any of the branches more than three years of age, since when kept down to this limit the wood will be healthier, stronger growth will be made, and the fruit will be better. When to renew the plantation.

A currant plantation will bear a great many good crops if well cared for, but if neglected the bushes lose their vigor in a few years. The grower will have to decide by the appearance of the bushes when to renew the plantation; but as a currant plantation can be renewed at comparatively little labor, it is best to have new bushes coming on before the old ones show signs of weakness. At least six good crops may be removed with fair treatment, and ten or more can be obtained if the bushes are in rich soil and well cared for. When one has only a few bushes for home use, they may be reinvigorated by cutting them down to the ground in alternate years, and thus securing a fresh supply of vigorous young wood.

Yield of currants. The red currant is one of the most regular in bearing of all fruits, and as it is naturally productive, the average yield should be large. Bailey, in the "Farm and Garden Rule-Book." puts the average yield at 100 bushels per acre. Card, in his book on "Bush-Fruits," says that it ought to be 100 to 150 bushels, "with good care," and reports 320 bushels. At the Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Canada, the Red Dutch averaged for four years at the rate of 7,335 pounds to the acre, or over 183 bushels. The largest yield from red currants obtained at the Central Experimental Farm was in 1900, when six bushes of the Red Dutch currant yielded 73 pounds, 15 ounces of fruit. The bushes were 6 by 5 feet apart. This means a yield at the rate of 17,892 pounds to the acre, or, at 40 pounds per bushel, 447 bushels 12 pounds to the acre. The same variety in 1905, in a new plantation, yielded 55½ pounds from six bushes, or at the rate of 13,431 pounds to the acre, or 335 bushels 31 pounds. These are very large yields, and while half of this amount may not be expected in ordinary field culture, the fact that such yields can be produced on a small area should be an inspiration to get more on a larger one.

The average yield of black currants has been somewhat less than the red, although individual yields have been large. The Saunders currant yielded for four years at the rate of 6,534 pounds to the acre, or over 163 bushels; the Kerry at the rate of 6,382 pounds to the acre, or over 159 bushels. The highest yield of black currants was obtained in 1905, when six bushes of Kerry planted 6 by 5 feet apart, yielded 62 pounds of fruit, or at the rate of 15,004 pounds to the acre, equal to 375 bushels, estimating at 40 pounds to the bushel.

Red and white currants, The red currant makes excellent jelly, and its popularity is largely due to this fact. A large quantity of red currant jelly is made every year in Canada. Red currants are used to a less extent for pies and as jam and are also eaten raw with sugar. As a fruit for eating out - of - hand, the red currant is not very popular, but there are few fruits so refreshing. The white currants are better liked for eating off the bush than the red, as they are not so acid. The Moore Ruby is a red variety, however, which is milder than most others, and for this reason is better adapted for eating raw. The red currant does not vary so much in quality as the black.

Red currants will remain in condition on the bushes for some time after ripening, and therefore do not have to be picked so promptly as the black.

Varieties. Varieties of red currants vary considerably in hardiness, the Cherry- Fay, Comet, Versaillaise, Wilder and others, while bearing very large fruit, are decidedly more tender than some of the others, hence they should not be planted in the coldest parts. The Franco-German and Prince Albert currants are later than most other varieties, and when it is desired to lengthen the season, these may be planted.

Varieties of red and white currants recommended: Red—for general culture—Pomona, Victoria, Cumberland Red, Red Dutch, Long Bunched Holland, Red Grape. Where bushes are protected with snow in winter, and for the milder districts.—Pomona, Victoria, Cumberland Red, Wilder, Cherry. Fay, and Red Cross. White.—White Cherry, Large White, White Grape.

Black currants. There are not so many black currants grown in America as red, but there is a steady demand for them, and it is thought there will be an increasing demand as they become better appreciated. They make excellent jelly and the merits of black currant jam have long been known. Black currants vary considerably in season, yield and quality, and therefore it is important to know those that are the best. As most varieties of black currants drop badly from the bushes as soon as ripe, it is important to pick them in good time.

Varieties of black currants recommended: Saunders, Collins Prolific, Buddenborg, Victoria, Boskoop Giant. Of those not yet on the market which are considered equal or better than those above, the following are the best: Kerry, Eclipse, Magnus, Clipper, Climax and Eagle, and the Success, for an early variety when yield is not so important as size and quality.

Crandall currant. This is a variety of the Buffalo or Missouri currant (Ribes aureum). A tall, strong, moderately upright grower; moderately productive. Fruit varies in size from small to large, in small, close bunches; bluish black, skin thick; sub-acid with a peculiar flavor. Quality medium. Ripens very unevenly. Season late July to September. As this variety ripens after the others, the birds concentrate on it and get a large proportion of the fruit.

Some of the most injurious insects affecting the currant.

Currant aphis (Myzus ribis). When the leaves of currant bushes are nearly full grown, many of them bear blister-like elevations of a reddish color, beneath which will be found yellowish plant-lice, some winged and some wingless. The blisters are due to the attacks of these insects, and when, as is sometimes the case, they are very abundant, considerable injury is done to the bushes. Spraying forcibly with whale-oil soap, or kerosene emulsion will destroy large numbers of these plant-lice at each application; but the liquid must be copiously applied and driven well up beneath the foliage by means of an angled nozzle. Two or three applications at short intervals may be necessary. Currant borer (Sesia tipuliformis). Early in June a beautiful little bluish black fly-like moth, with three bright yellow bands around the body may be seen darting about, around, or at rest on the leaves of currant bushes of all kinds. This is one of the most troublesome enemies of these fruits. The moth lays an egg at a bud on the young wood, and the caterpillar, when hatched, eats its way into the cane and destroys the pith. It remains in the wood during the winter, and the moth emerges during the following summer. Close pruning is the best remedy. Burn the wood.

Currant maggot (Epochra canadensis). Red, black and white currants are in some places seriously attacked by the maggots of a small fly. These maggots come to full growth just as the berries are about to ripen, causing them to fall from the bushes, when the insects leave them and burrow into the ground to pupate. Attacked fruit is rendered useless by the presence of the maggots inside the berries; and frequently it is not until the fruit is cooked that the white maggots can be detected. Gooseberries are sometimes injured but far less frequently than black and red currants. The only treatment which has given any results is the laborious one of removing about 3 inches of the soil from beneath bushes which are known to have been infested, and replacing this with fresh soil. That which was removed must be treated in some way, so that the contained puparia may be destroyed. This may be done either by throwing it into a pond or by burying it deeply in the earth.

Currant worm or imported currant sawfly (Pteronus ribesii). By far the best known of all the insects that injure currants and gooseberries, is the "currant worm." The black- spotted dark green false caterpillars of this insect may unfortunately be found in almost every plantation of currants or gooseberries, every year in almost all parts of America where these fruits are grown. The white eggs are laid in rows along the ribs of the leaf on the lower side, toward the end of May. From these the young larvae hatch and soon make their presence known by the small holes they eat through the leaves. Unless promptly destroyed, they will soon strip the bushes of their leaves, thus weakening them considerably so as to prevent the fruit from ripening the first year, and also reducing the quality of the crop of the following season. There are at least two broods in a season in most places; the first appears just as the leaves are attaining full growth, and the second just as the fruit is ripening. The perfect insect is a four-winged fly which may be seen flying about the bushes early in spring. The male is blackish, with yellow legs and of about the same size as a housefly, but with a more slender body. The female is larger and has the body as well as the legs yellow. For the first brood a weak mixture of Paris green, one ounce to six pounds of flour, may be dusted over the foliage after a shower or when the leaves are damp with dew. For the second brood Paris green must not be used, but white hellebore; or hellebore may be used for first brood, but it is necessary to kill quickly. This is dusted on as a dry powder, or a decoction, one ounce to two gallons of water, may be sprayed over the bushes. It is, of course, far better to treat the first brood thoroughly, to reduce the number of females which lay eggs for the second brood. Oyster-shell scale (Lepidosaphes ulmi). Several kinds of scale insects attack currants. These plants seem to be particularly susceptible to the attacks of the well- known oyster-shell scale of the apple, and the San Jos6 scale. In neglected plantations these injurious insects increase rapidly, and a great deal of injury results to the bushes. The remedies for scale insects are direct treatment for the destruction of the infesting insect, and preventive measures, such as the invigoration of the bush by special culture and pruning, to enable it to throw off or outgrow injury. Infested plantations should be cultivated and fertilized early in the season and all unnecessary wood should be pruned out. As direct remedies, spraying the bushes at the time the young scale insects first appear in June with kerosene emulsion or whale-oil soap, or spraying in autumn before the hard weather of winter sets in with a simple whitewash made with one pound of lime in each gallon of water, give the best results. Two coats of the whitewash should be applied, the second one immediately after the first is dry. In putting on two thin coats of the wash instead of one thick one, far better results have been secured. For the San Jose scale, the lime-and-sulfur wash is necessary, and must be repeated every year.

Diseases of the currant. The currant is affected by very few diseases. The only ones that do much injury are the following: Leaf-spot, rust (Septoria ribis). The leaf-spot fungus, affects black, red and white currants, causing the leaves to fall prematurely, and thus weakening the bushes. This disease is first noticed about midsummer, when small brownish spots appear on the leaves. These often become so numerous that they affect a large part of the foliage, soon causing the leaves to fall. As the disease often appears before the fruit is picked, it is difficult to control it if the bushes are not sprayed previously. By using the ammoniacal copper carbonate the bushes may be sprayed a week or two before it is expected, without discoloring the fruit; giving a second application, if necessary. As soon as the fruit is picked, the bushes should be thoroughly sprayed with bordeaux mixture. Experiments have shown that this disease can be controlled by spraying.

Currant anthracnose (Glaesporium ribis). This disease, which may be mistaken for the leaf-spot, affects different parts of the bush, including the leaves, leafstalks, young branches, fruit and fruit-stalks. On the leaves it is made evident during the month of June by the small brown spots which are usually smaller than those made by the leaf-spot fungus. The lower leaves are affected first, and finally the upper ones. They turn yellow and gradually fall to the ground, and when the disease is bad the bushes are defoliated before their time. On the petioles or leaf-stalks, the disease causes slightly sunken spots. The fruit is affected with roundish black spots which are more easily seen when the fruit is green. On the young wood the diseased areas are light in color and are not so noticeable. The wood is not nearly so much injured by the disease as the leaves. The spores which spread this disease are formed in pustules, the majority of which are under the upper epidermis of the leaf. Where the spores are to appear, the surface of the leaf is raised and blackened in spots looking like small pimples. When the spores are ready to come out the skin breaks and they escape and re-infect other parts. When the foliage drops early on account of this disease the fruit is liable to be scalded by the sun. The fruit may also wither before ripening properly, owing to lack of food or of moisture, as, the leaves having fallen, they are unable to keep up the necessary supply. The premature falling of the leaves prevents the buds from maturing properly, hence they are not in so good condition to bear fruit the next year. Spraying with bordeaux mixture is recommended as an aid in controlling this disease. It would be wise, when currant anthracnose is troublesome, to spray the bushes thoroughly before the leaves appear. A second spraying should be made when the leaves are unfolding, and successive sprayings at intervals of ten to fourteen days until the fruit is nearly full grown, and there is danger of its being discolored by the spray when ripe. Paris green should be added to the mixture when the first brood of the currant worm appears. A thorough spraying after the fruit is harvested is desirable. W. T. Macoun.

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.

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