Growing Ground Cherries

 I discovered ground cherries last year.

I grew them out of curiosity because I had seen a wild version in Illinois quite a few years back and had wondered even back then if they were edible. Actually, the first time I saw them in the meadow brought took me back to childhood and the first book I ever owned; in it, a little field mouse was running away with one of these 'cherries' in it's mouth...

Anyway, it's a shame I didn't take a picture of the fruit which came from these plants- absolutely fantastic! I've heard them described by various fruit combinations: pineapple-kiwi, pineapple-strawberry and so on but they really have a unique, citrus type flavor.

The fruit (from my plants) is encased in a papery husk that is tan in colour. When you peel away the husk enclosed is a marble sized, amber coloured fruit still attached to it's base. You simply pull the 'cherry' off and eat it! I didn't realize until later on in the fall, when I saw ground cherries for sale in a coffee shop still in their husks, that the fruit could be kept for quite a long period if left as is (enclosed).

Ground cherries are so called because when they ripen they fall off the plant and onto the ground. They may still be green (the husks as well) but the colour will usually change upon drying. They are similar to a plant called 'Chinese Lantern' although not red.
Their proper Latin name of the the ground cherry (also called 'Cape Gooseberry') that is commonly grown is Physalis pruinosa.

What I have learned is that, despite the descriptions of their growing habits as being 'spreading' or 'rambling', the conditions under which I planted kept them from getting much more than knee-high and less than that in spread. That's not to say they won't! There were also a few tomatoes coming up that I didn't want to disturb. This year I have allocated far more space for these plants to see if they will indeed spread out to 5 feet...and hopefully, produce larger/more fruit.

As well, given that the seeds are maybe a millimeter across, they should be covered by at least twice that or more; particularly in very windy places. Watering should initially be gentle until there is an obvious plant coming out of the ground. I lost a lot of seed despite being careful and now will not put them in the ground unless they are contained in some way. Besides two planters that have about 8 ground cherries I also put down seed in the same place as last year (a boxed bed along the house) and also grew some in an plastic flat with holes in it for drainage and just recently transplanted them to where I lost my other potential crop.

Incidentally, seed was very hard to come by at one point and many of the plants I have started are from seeds that fell to the ground last year and came up fortuitously. I was even able to replace one ground cherry that mysteriously died with a seedling coming up in the herb plot. Will update once there's fruit. :)

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