Ground cherries are one of our favorite annuals here at Paper Crane. The berries themselves are about the size of a large blueberry and taste more of citrus than of cherry. Ripe berries drop to the ground, each one wrapped in a papery husk that keeps it fresh for weeks. They’re shelf stable, so we just go out about once a week in late summer to pick them up. They go into a large snack bowl on the counter, where any uneaten ones will keep until we get around to processing them. The seeds are edible, so processing them consists largely of pulling off the husk and dropping the berry into a ziplock bag for freezing. Over the winter, they’ll be turned into smoothies and jams. The girls like to eat them fresh or frozen.
We grow them much like tomatoes. We start the seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before last frost. Then, once the weather is reliably warm, we transplant them to a sunny spot outside. Like other transplants, they benefit from consistent watering until they get established. Getting established can take a while. Ground cherries tend to stay pretty small and straggly until they hit their stride around mid-July. Planted by themselves, roughly one seedling per square foot, they’ll develop a bushy growth habit and grow to be about a foot or so tall. Intermixed with taller plants, they’ll fight for access to the sun, developing as more of a vine and getting to be 5 feet tall or more.
What I like: 1) Fruit in year one! 2) Inexpensive (just a packet of seeds). 3) They will reseed themselves if left on the ground. 4) Shelf stable for weeks. 5) Easy processing 6) Winter fruit for the kids.
What I don’t like: 1) Transplanting can be tricky. We often lose a bunch of seedlings if it’s too hot and dry. 2) Some varieties need a longer growing season. I recommend Aunt Molly’s.