PIKETON, Ohio – The small fruit industry in Ohio is quickly expanding beyond blueberries, brambles and strawberries.
The market now exists for Ribes, perennial woody shrubs that produce a variety of edible berries, such as gooseberries, currants and jostaberries (a black currant and gooseberry hybrid).
Maurus Brown, an Ohio State University Extension small fruit specialist of OSU South Centers at Piketon, said that the niche specialty crops can be sold at markets as fresh berries, in baked goods, for jams and jellies, and even the wine industry. But growers can't produce just any variety in Ohio. Ribes varieties must be resistant to white pine blister rust, a devastating disease of white pine trees of which Ribes are a host.
Brown and his colleagues have launched trials at OSU South Centers at Piketon to evaluate disease-resistant varieties and determine which ones grow best in Ohio.
"The selections we chose are either labeled as showing immunity or show high resistance to the white pine blister rust," said Brown. "Our primary interest is to evaluate the varieties and determine their ratings for white pine blister rust based on the local growing conditions in Ohio. That means if they are rated as immune then they shouldn't show any signs or symptoms of the disease, and if they are rated as highly resistant, then they should have little, if any, disease issues."
To protect white pine forests, several states, including Ohio, have enacted laws concerning planting black currants that do not show immunity or high resistance to white pine blister rust. Ohio law does not prohibit the planting of red currants or gooseberries.
The three-year trial at OSU South Centers will focus on 18 Ribes varieties. They include Consort, Coronet, Crusader, and Titania—all black currants; Rovada, a red currant; Primus, a white currant; Josta, a jostaberry; and Captivator, Jahns Prairie, Invicta, Poorman, Black Velvet, Hinnonmaki Red, Red George, Tixia, Jewel and Pixwell—all gooseberries.
"There are more resistant varieties, but some are just very difficult to get a hold of," said Brown. "We wanted to evaluate varieties that growers can easily find. These varieties are not only from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Germplasm Repository, but they can also be purchased from commercial fruit nurseries."
Researchers will be studying several characteristics of each Ribes variety, including overall plant growth, vigor, winter hardiness, disease and insect resistance, total fruit yield, fruit size and quality, and overall horticulture characteristics.
The trial, which was planted in June, will be part of the tour at the OSU South Centers Horticulture Field Night on August 12. The program begins at 5 p.m. with dinner served at 8:30 p.m. Registration is $10 per person.
Those interested in attending the field night are encouraged to register by Aug. 10. For more information, contact Julie Strawser-Moose at (740) 289-2071, ext. 223 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on white pine blister rust on currants and gooseberries, refer to the OSU Extension fact sheet at http://bit.ly/94kn8o.