Quick List Tutorial
1. Start seeds inside 6-7 weeks before last frost date. germination time: two weeks – germination temperature 24-32C (75-90F
2. Grow in window with Southern exposure, in hot frame or under florescent lights
3. Harden off and plant outside 2 weeks after last frost date
4. Plant 12” (trellised)-24” (sprawling) apart in well drained soil, PH 6.0-6.5, full sun
5. Do not harvest the fruit green from the plant. Wait until the husk turns brown and falls from the plant. The fruit will be a yellow/green wait still longer. The fruit will attain peak ripeness and be a deep yellow after being on the ground for a week or two.
6. In the fall, cover the plants with a thick tarp or blanket if there is a threat of frost. The plants will not survive the winter in the North.
7. After your last harvest, store the fruits in a cool, dry, place under insulation (if the temperature threatens to go below freezing)
8. See below for saving seeds
Musings and facts for Physalis pruinosa
Ground Cherry, Cerise de Terre, Yellow Husk Cherry, Poha, Cape Gooseberry, Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry …… there is a good deal of confusion over the species
characteristics, botanical classifications and common names for Physalis species but one thing is for sure, if you like the taste of these ½ – ¾ inch, glossy, golden, globes sheathed in their own thin paper wrapper, you will want to grow them yourself or find someone who does. Their taste is unique and it is very difficult to describe. The best I’ve come up with is a cross between mango and butterscotch candy. Most references put their origin in Peru but they have made their way to North America and thrived. So much so, that the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food classify the Clammy Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla) and the Smooth Ground Cherry (Physalis virginiana) as weeds!
Here in the north the plants are annuals while in the south they grow into sprawling perennials More cold tolerant than tomatoes, if protected at night, they will bear until a heavy frost and I am still eating these tasty delights every morning in my breakfast
porridge even today, December 9th. I protected my plants from the early frosts with a heavy tarp and picked my last harvest some time in late October. Then I stored them in the hayloft of the barn on recycled reed shades. Reed shades are great for placing all manner of plant materials on for storing and drying since they breathe. You can often find reed shades tossed out, on the side of the road during Spring and Fall cleanups because of minor flaws. Now that the weather is starting to dip below freezing, I place a couple of layers of light weight, recycled insulation on top of the ground cherries. By this time some of them have passed maturity and are starting to get mushy but 60% of them are still plump and firm.
The species I grow is Physalis pruinosa. I plant them .25 inch deep in flats inside the house 6-7 weeks before my last frost free date. I keep the covered flats near the ceiling of the kitchen so that they stay warm because the seeds germinate at temperatures ranging from 24- 32C (75-90F). Ground Cherries are slow to germinate and take about two weeks to emerge. Once I see their little sprouts, I move them into my hot frame (a cold frame heated with horse manure).
You could also grow them inside, until all danger of frost has passed, under florescent lights or in a window with an unobstructed southern exposure. Harden the plants off and then transplant them into the garden two weeks after your last frost. Ground Cherries will grow in all kinds of well drained, soils rich in organic material. The optimal soil PH is between 6-6.5. They thrive under the heat of full sun. If you can provide them with a shade free, southern exposure they will grow abundantly. So abundantly, that their luxurious, downy, heart shaped, foliage will shade out the weeds making them very east to maintain. My plants grow to 1 foot high and are profusely branching. Friends have told me of plants growing to 3 feet high in trellises. Plant them 18 -24 inches apart if you have space to let the plants sprawl or 12 inches apart if you have limited space and want to trellis them. I did noticed the small, shot gun, pattern of flea beetles damage on my young plants but they were quite mature by the time I transplanted them that so they were able to overcome the damage by their rapid growth. Other than the flea beetles nothing seemed to bother the plants.
Soon after transplanting the small, yellow, flowers emerge. The flowers are perfect. That
means that they have both male and female sex parts and are self pollinating. Flowers will continue to emerge until the plant dies in the fall. Following the flowers will be a spring green, papery, husk resembling small Japanese lanterns. The fruit is inside this husk and is hard and green. As the fruit matures the husk turns straw colored and the berry turns yellow. When the fruit is ripe the whole package drops off the plant onto the ground. Do not eat the berries before they drop from the plant because they can give you an upset stomach. The fruit may be ripe when it drops from the plant but it is not at its tastiest. I like to wait a week or two for the berries to deepen in color and fully ripen for the true orgasmic taste. Once the plants start to drop their fruit you will be rich in ground cherries. These plants are prolific. You can harvest hundreds and hundreds of fruit from just half a dozen plants. I think that one of the reasons Ground Cherries are not main stream is that they are not easy to harvest mechanically. If you let the sprawl, like I do, you have to gently lift up the branches and scoop the mounds of husks off the ground.
With the generous production of the plant you are bound to miss a few berries and be rewarded with volunteers the following year. Remember what I said at the beginning about Ontario declaring some cultivars to be dangerous weeds!
This brings me to proliferation. Each of these berries has at quite a few seeds inside.To save seeds gather some fully ripe fruit and remove the papery husks. Gently crush the fruit in a bowl until totally blended. The seeds which are small and slippery should not be harmed by a gently blending. Add enough water to double the mixture, stir vigorously, and allow the good seeds to settle to the bottom. Gently pour off the debris and hollow seeds. Add more water and repeat the process until only clean seeds remain. Pour the clean seeds through a strainer with holes small enough to prevent the passage of the seeds. Wipe the bottom of the strainer on a towel to remove as much moisture as possible and dump the seeds onto a glass or in a ceramic dish to dry.