Saturday, December 5, 2009
My daughter asked what ground cherries look like. This is what they look like when they are growing, except that this plant doesn't have very many ground cherries showing on it. The fruit grows inside a husk, and there are two clearly visible in this picture. We didn't grow them until 2008 and this was actually our only plant that year. We had ordered two plants but transplanted them a little too early and one didn't survive the frost. They should be planted on a tomato schedule, that is, near the end of May, beginning of June.
At that time we didn't know how easy it was to start ground cherries from seed. We also didn't know much space they need because the one plant in 2008 had its growth inhibited by the frost and by growing in the shadow of soybeans and cucumbers. This year I had 25 seedlings to transplant but they are so productive that I think I only need 8 to 10 next year.
Harvesting ground cherries take a little effort. The fruit grows inside a husk and they are not ready to harvest until they fall off the plant. Even then many (at least this year) were not ripe enough to use. They have to be yellow. To use the fruit the husk has to be removed, which is quite easy but also time consuming. There was quite a bit of waste this year consisting of unripe fruit and over-ripe (cracked) fruit.
Here is what the fruit looks like. After removing the ripe fruit from the husks and unusable fruit we rinse them, put them on a cookie sheet, and freeze them. Once they are frozen we put them into freezer bags and keep them until we have enough to use. Our favorite use is ground cherry jam. It has a unique and pleasant taste. Other people make ground cherry pies.
Our challenge for next year is to find ways to grow the ground cherries so that harvesting is easier and more productive. This year we had to be on our hands and knees reaching under the rather low growing plants to find the fruits on the ground. We suspect that chipmunks were also eating some of them because there were a lot of empty husks and the chipmunks were often in that area. We might try growing them in containers so they are off the ground.