Red Lake Currants

soilent_greenJuly 23, 2013

Harvested Red Lake Improved, Pink Champagne, and Rovada Red currants. Made jelly out of them.

Picked the classic Red Lakes specifically for pie. Small berries but well worth the effort.

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Nice photos and really nice fruit. I'm still thinking about planting some currants. How tall and wide have you plants become? What is the average yield / plant?

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 10:44PM
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Red Lake Improved: 3 ft. tall, 4 ft. diameter bush, harvested 3 quarts of berries.

Pink Champagne: 3 ft. tall, 3 ft. diameter bush, harvested 2 quarts of berries.

Rovada Red: 3 ft. tall, 3 ft. diameter bush, harvested 2 quarts of berries.

Blanca White: 3 ft. tall, 3 ft. diameter bush, had lots of berries but I skipped harvesting this year, don't care for them much and don't need really need them. They do make a good filler berry for getting more jelly processed, though.

Ben Sarek Black: Died.

Classic Red Lake: 4 ft. tall, 4 ft. diameter bush, harvested 1.5 quarts. Excellent producer but small berries compared to other varieties.

I am very satisfied with the varieties that I have but I still want to acquire some of those black varieties per the currant discussion in that other thread.

Pic shows a sample of jelly made from combined Rovada, Pink Champagne, and Red Lake Improved currants. Currant jelly turns out darker than one would expect. Delicious stuff. Also works well in combination with other berries.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:05PM
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Thanks Tom.... I really appreciate the detailed information. That was exactly the info that I was looking for. I just checked the Rain Tree catalogue and they didn't have the Red Lake Improved. However, they do show the Red Rovada and the Belaruskaja Black Currant that was discussed in the other post. I'll have to track down the Improved Red Lake.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 10:36PM
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Happy to help. :)

My father started the original Red Lakes here back in the early 1970s. I am still harvesting from a child of the original plant but my main production is now coming from a grandchild of the original plant. I acquired the other five varieties mail order in a currant "package" deal from JW Jung Seeds back in the late 1990s. They still carry most of the varieties I listed plus a few more. They seem pretty proud of their stuff and prices reflect this but I have had good success (with the exception of the Ben Sarek), harvesting gallons of berries over the years since they were planted. I looked at the 2013 catalog and noticed that they have what they call "Red Lake" which I suspect is what they used to call "Red Lake Improved". In fact, I strongly suspect that any nursery today that is selling "Red Lake" is actually selling the improved version. Jungs also carries Jonkheer red and Consort Black.

Couple of other details, based on my observations:

1.) I have most of the plants in full sun and they seem to struggle with it somewhat. The plants in half sun seem healthier and more vigorous and still produce fine, although I think berry size is affected. I have to admit that I am a bit surprised with these observations. My point is that if your best planting locations only have half sun do not let that stop you.

2.) The original Red Lake berries pop right off the stems. They are very easy to pick but hard to hold onto, often rolling right out of your hand.The large-berried varieties seem to have a bit of a flaw wherein the berries do not come off clean, the skin tears on most berries as they are picked. This necessitates speedy processing to preserve the flavor and juice. As a result I try to pick the berries off by the cluster by pinching the stem. The problem with this is you then have all kinds of little stems in with the berries. My solution is to simply juice the berries in a steamer juicer and make jelly out of them. The stems impart no off flavors that I have noticed.

3.) I love original Red Lake berries in pie precisely because of their small size and the fact that they come off the plant whole and undamaged. They explode in tart little flavor bursts as you chew. Heaven. That being said, if I could only choose one variety of non-black currant I would choose a large-berried variety simply for the convenience and yield.

4.) Pink Champagne and Rovada Red berries ripen one to two weeks later than Red Lake and Red Lake Improved.

5.) It takes me approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours to pick a plant clean.

Wild blueberry season up there yet? My favorite berry hands down is the wild blueberry (the domesticated blueberry is not in my top five). On the rare times I am up north during blueberry season I swear I would fight the bears off to get my share if I had to. LOL Number two is currant, three is gooseberry, four is black raspberry, five is red raspberry, and the rest follow in no special order.


This is a crappy pic but the only one I had taken showing the harvest of Red Lake Improved. The berries average approximately 3/8" diameter as compared to original Red Lake which averages in size from BB to 1/4" diameter. Note all the little stems in with the berries.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 11:17AM
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"The berries average approximately 3/8" diameter as compared to original Red Lake which averages in size from BB to 1/4" diameter."

Correction, the Red Lake Improved berries average in size from 1/4" to 3/8" diameter. Doubtful there would ever be a berry larger than 3/8" diameter.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 11:56AM
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Top pic shows Red Lake Improved berries that still remained on the vine after the main harvest either because I missed them or they were not ripe at the time.

Bottom pic shows (left to right) Pink Champagne, Rovada Red, Blanca White currants.

Had a little bit of spare time this morning so I went out and picked what remained for a photo op. Not shown is another pint of Red Lake Improved that I picked. All obviously increase my total harvests listed in previous post.

As can be observed, the color of the Blanca Whites are not that appealing, and they darken to a brown as they become overripe. I consider the flavor to be mediocre as well, but as stated previously they are fine as a filler berry. I think other folks must agree because I am seeing fewer companies offer this variety.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 7:36PM
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Again, Thank You so much Tom. Your observations are really quite valuable to anyone wanting to grow currants. The nursery catalogs all have info, but it is very general because of the wide geographic area that they sell to. It is also hard sort out the hype vs. the actual facts. Info from a local grower is the best that one can get.

I do have a few spots that get late afternoon shade and that area would probably be perfect for both the plants and my planting plans.

I just put the nets on my blueberries last Sunday. The birds were starting to take them even though they barely had any blue on them. Most of the varieties are starting to ripen pretty good now. I'll be able to pick some by the end of this weekend, but the peak for mine will be in about 2 weeks.

The ones in the wild are probably running even a little later than mine. The ice didn't go off of our lake, and the frost wasn't out of the ground until May 16th this year. That made for a really slow start.

I do have a couple of varieties that are very low growing (like the wild ones) and have fair small berries (like the wild ones). You're right, their flavor is more intense than the larger varieties. Slow picking though. Because of the smaller size and intense flavor, we try to save these for blueberry muffins and pancakes.

These are two 72 ft rows of my blueberries. Covered to keep the birds out.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 10:52PM
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Very nice blueberry patch - I am a bit jealous. I did not mean to disparage the domesticated blueberry in previous post, they are wonderful berries and equal strawberries in my extended list of favorites. I simply prefer intense, unique, concentrated berry flavors.

My father tried several times to grow blueberries down here, amending the soil and all that jazz. I tried it several times as well. Neither of us ever got so much as a single berry for all the effort and expense over the years. Was a good lesson, though. Taught me to accept the facts and grow what is meant for this region, climate, hardiness zone, and soil type.

Which brings up the point of making certain that currants will grow in your soil type. I notice in photo background that you have a mixed woods. If there are any wild ribes in your area then that would be a good indicator that your plants will succeed. I do not have any knowledge in regards to whether currants will grow in the same soil type that blueberries grow in. What I do know is that my plants are content in my slightly alkaline soil.

When harvest time comes, please take a picture of a pan of your blueberries and post, I would love to see them.


    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 11:28AM
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I will try to take several pictures when it gets closer to the peak harvest time for the blueberries.

Actually, our native soil in this area is only slightly acidic. The area where my fruit patch is was forested up to about 10 years ago. I had to remove a LOT of stumps and roots to get it ready. The organic content of the soil wasn't high enough to hold moisture well, and we have no clay. Blueberries can't handle dry roots. Even a little set them back.

When I started to prepare the blueberry planting rows, I dug out the sandy loam, surface soil down 9 inches and 30 inches wide in each row. This was set aside. The next 9 inches that I dug out was mostly sand and that was hauled away. The property already had some big piles of coarse sawdust from logging many, many years ago. I mixed this coarse rotted sawdust 50/50 with peat in very large batches. Also added some garden sulfur at this time as well. This mixture was added to the sandy loam that I had saved and all remixed. Enough to bring the trench back up to a little above level to allow for settling. The pH in the blueberry rows has settled in the 4.5 to 5.5 range. I mulch both rows with 3" of pine needles to save moisture. Wood chips cover the walking area in between. Water is strictly rain water.... direct and collected off of the polebarn roof. Has a good pH for Blues.

When I prep the spots for the currants this fall, for planting in the spring, I'll up the pH a bit for them. I'll add a little garden lime and a little wood ash from the fireplaces. I'll also give them a little more, worked in, organic matter in the planting area as well.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 4:38PM
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Sounds like you put some effort into your project. Looks like it is paying off.

My questions, though, are (and always have been): What happens when all the benefits of the sawdust and peat and sulfur that you mixed in have been consumed and/or leached out? Perhaps this will never be an issue? Or I guess if a person gets, for example, ten years out of a bed then simply do two beds on a five year rotation to ensure continued production.

Well, I did some catalog shopping regarding black currants. Raintree has an excellent selection and as a result I do not know where to start, other than the recommendations in the black currant thread. I am leaning towards Jungs and getting Ben Sarek again along with Prince Consort, but I sure would like to try Belaruskaja. I noticed all the nurseries are spring ship so I have plenty of time to do some research. Sure would like to get some input from someone in Minnesota who is actually growing black currants.

Okay, I promise this is my last currant photo. I was going to skip harvesting my last bush of original Red Lakes but I could hear the berries calling me. Never seen that many berries on this plant (actually the main plant with a group of smaller volunteers that have grown up around it due to natural layering of branches - more of a "patch"). I harvested three quarts of the small berries, took me over three hours but was worth it.

While I was harvesting that last bush I came across a young volunteer off-type plant that has clear-skinned berries. Much prettier than Blanca but again not as flavorful as the red berries. I flagged it and will move it next spring to its own spot to see what it does. Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be a decent strain.

So all the currants that could possibly be harvested are now harvested. My total currant harvest for this year came to around 14 quarts of berries.

Time to pick raspberries. :)

Take care,

P.S. I wish we lived closer to each other - I would sure be willing to trade you a gallon ziploc bag of frozen original Red Lakes (the berries in this photo) for an equivalent of your frozen blueberries. Also, I have a few nice volunteers of original Red Lake plants that I do not want or need - would consider sending you one or two bare root this fall or next spring if you think it is worth it. I would understand if you prefer the larger-berry varieties. Maybe email me if interested so we can discuss privately.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Like you, I am also wondering how long the organic material in the blueberry rows will hold up. I think that without VERY heavy mulching, your 10 year estimation could be very close.

Because I have an unlimited supply of free pine needles each year, I have been fairly diligent about keeping the needle mulch level at between 3 and 4 inches. Pine needles don't mat like so many other materials so air can penetrate through easily for the plants. They also do a great job of keeping the low berries clean.

I'm hoping that as the needles break down at the bottom of the layer, they will be replenishing some of the lower organic material (sawdust and peat) that has been lost. I do know that this is helping, how much, is the unknown. Blueberries have a very unique root system and I'll be watching to see if they grow up into some of the new organic material from the needles.

When I add new needles to the top, I also add a very small amount of new sulfur at that time. This new sulfur won't start breaking down until it has reached the moist area that contains the bacteria that will consume it, and acidify the soil at that time. With this method, there is about a 2 year lag time on the benefit of the new sulfur. Since it is a maintenance procedure rather than corrective, the delay is no problem. I need to use very little sulfur because I use rain water instead of well water. The difference between the rain and well water here is around 1.5 ph points. This is a major factor that helps the most at keeping the pH low.

If the roots don't grow up into the new organic material, and the plants do continue to settle because of organic loss below, I'll have some serious work to do. The plan would be to dig around the plant enough to raise it in place and add new material beneath it. UGH!

Tom, I appreciate the offer on the Red Lakers. Once I figure out the list of what I want to plant, I let you know either way through an e-mail. Probably this fall some time. Yes, it would have been fun to swap out some Blues for Currants.

Maybe in the future you will give Blues a try again, and we will both have the full assortment!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 8:19AM
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The conversation has reached its natural conclusion here, but I wanted to say that I have come up with a little blueberry plan. I have gotten into container gardening as a side hobby and I seem to be pretty successful with it. I now grow all my celery, basil, and other herbs in half barrels with plastic liners, and they do much better than in the ground out in the gardens. This year I even had a half barrel full of strawberry plants for fresh picking right up by the house. Anyway, my brother has a cabin up north and next time I go up there I am going to dig up a few five gallon pails of his soil and bring it home, power it up, and put it in a barrel planter for next year. This winter I plan on ordering either dwarf Tophat or dwarf Northsky blueberry plants to put in that container next spring. In late fall/early winter I plan on moving the entire thing into cold storage so it is protected from freeze-thaw cycles during the winter, to see if I can successfully winter it through and get more than one season out of it. Maybe if this is successful it might fire me up to give a blueberry patch one more try.

The main problem: My heavy silty black clay loam soil on top of a two to three feet gray clay layer is great for growing vegetables but I believe it is of little value or benefit for using as a base for a blueberry soil mix. If one observes how and where wild blueberries grow, I guarantee the soil has absolutely no comparison to mine in composition. Heck, up in the BWCA I have picked premium quality wild blueberries found in patches growing in 6" to 8" of sphagnum, pine needles, and leaf litter sitting on an inch or so of mostly organic soil with bedrock right underneath. Nothing in that mix equates with what I have down here, including potential soil microorganisms that might be beneficial to blueberry plants.

Ideally what I would like to do, but is obviously not practical, is to get a truckload or two of soil from up north to use as the starting point. I wonder what my brother would say if I showed up at his place with a skid loader... ;)

Wishing you a successful blueberry harvest. Don't forget to post pics. :)

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 10:23AM
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Tom, thanks for all of this helpful (and interesting) information.

I, too, would be interested in growing black currants--the kind Cassis is made from. So do please post back if you turn up some good leads on growing them in Minnesota.

Also, do you have a recommendation on a Ph meter? I've googled around only to find a great deal of conflicting information, particularly in relation to accuracy and quality.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 1:46PM
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Don't know if you checked out Maryna's black currant thread or not, here is the link:
Black Currants

I may just bump it up so it goes back to the first page. I wonder if she got her plants ordered and how they are doing...

Ph meters are very troublesome. I wanted to get one for fermenting and gave up because the cheap ones can be inaccurate right out of the box, or might work correctly for a little while and then become inaccurate and you wouldn't know it. Decent ones cost in the range of hundreds of dollars. All reliable ones need to be calibrated before use.

If you want to do more research, there have been lots of discussions regarding ph meters in the GW Harvest Forum and the GW Hot Pepper Forum.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 7:34PM
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Thanks, Tom. Given your misgivings about finding a Ph meter that works, i.e., that gives accurate, reliable readings, I'm wondering what northernmn, e.g., uses to make the judgments he does in the previous posts. I suppose I should be asking him . Perhaps he'll see this and comment.


    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 7:04PM
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I obviously can't speak for northernmn but I have my soil tested fairly often - easy to do. The U of M offers this service as well as a fair amount of private companies, ag extension offices, local grain coops, etc. Tests range in comprehensiveness based on how much a person is willing to pay, but soil ph is a fundamental that is included in all test types.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 8:57PM
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I just do pH tests on the soil for my blueberries. Bromocresol Green is a liquid that you mix a drop of to the distilled water that your soil has been put in. You have to filter the soil out of the distilled water before the test. I use a quad folded coffee filter. It's color will range from yellow at a pH of 3.8 or less, to blue for a pH of 5.4 or higher. If it is green or green/blue (the in between pHs), your blueberries will be happy. Yellow/green is a little too acidic. Very fool proof and only moderately expensive.

Do a search on it on the Net to learn more and where to buy. There are other variations of these chemicals that zero in on different pH ranges.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 11:02PM
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Did some research, very interesting. Kind of wish I had taken some chemistry classes back in the day...

    Bookmark   July 31, 2013 at 11:42AM
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I'm a little late in joining this thread but I just wanted to add that my siblings and I own land in northern Minnesota. The land has been in our family since the late 1800's. I'm pretty sure we have some of the best wild blueberry patches in the world. Seriously!

Mother Nature has been doing all the work. The only problems have been the black flies that will take a huge bite out of you unless you're well protected and the bears. However we need the bears to spread the seeds.

The berries are small so it takes a lot of picking to get a bucket full and it's a long drive up there but it's so worth it. My husband says I'm a blueberry snob.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2013 at 11:43PM
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"The berries are small so it takes a lot of picking to get a bucket full and it's a long drive up there but it's so worth it."

You sound like me... :) Betcha there are a fair amount of other folks like us as well.

It almost becomes an obsession. I would find a patch, start picking, and before I knew it I had worked right through the day. Once I focus very little will stop or distract me. Only a growling stomach from working right through lunch and/or dinner time would finally drive me away. I would even bring a couple of pots along to bang together to (hopefully) solve any bear issues. No way they were chasing me out, especially if I was there first. I don't care if it is their "turf".

The problem I have is that I simply cannot stand it when others around me eat more than they put in the pan. I understand giving in to the temptation but it It takes self control to resist because I want to freeze them for muffins, biscuits, scones, and pancakes in winter, as well as for making preserves. The very same preserves that those berry devourers always want from me come winter-time. ;)


    Bookmark   August 5, 2013 at 1:07PM
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Am interested in trying to grow currants from open pollinated seeds and
Names var.seeds if available.
Would appreciate to have some seeds from your plants.
Am willing to pay or send some excellent teas or pure aromatherapy oils
In exchange from nirvana
thanking you for your time and looking forward to your co operation.


    Bookmark   January 5, 2014 at 11:31PM
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I will not have seed available until July harvest.

I like growing things from seed but I have had no success germinating currant seed. Not saying it cannot be done, just my opinion that a person would be better off acquiring plants.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 2:42PM
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Hello and many thanks for yr response.
Read that currant seeds require stratification for proper germination.
Anyway I will wait till the coming fruiting season to go ahead.
Have successfully germinated som blueberries and did grow tuberous
Begonia from pelleted seeds
Hoping to get maximum vars as can keep tab on germination,growth and
Ans also try cross pollination manually.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:16PM
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