Ground cherries (physalis)

plantslayer(8)March 16, 2009

Physalis includes very similar plants such as "ground cherries", "cape goseberries", "husk cherries", etc. etc. Most of these species are edible.

If you are not sure what I am talking about, these plants produce small berry-sized fruits inside a husk-like sheath, which have a sweet berry-like flavor (not at all like tomatoes, really, although sometimes described as "tomato-pineapple"). In short, the fruits are like tiny tomatillos, but taste very different from them.

Why am I posting about "ground cherries" on a TOMATO forum? Because they are solanaceae, and whenever I look up information on how to grow them, the information says "culture same as tomatoes". This is not exactly accurate, as I found out recently. I started a bunch of tomatoes and other plants including some physalis sold by Fedco as "husk cherry". The tomatoes came up in just four days (!!) inside a six-pack which was under a plastic dome in one of those covered plastic trays you can get at the nursery/hardware store, and kept in a bright window. The husk cherries took exactly TWO WEEKS on the dot to germinate in the same conditions (they all came up at the same time). We were wondering if our pack was full of duds, and even dug around in a couple of the cells to see if something was trying to push up in them, but didn't find anything. So, while it appears that I should have planted them a bit more shallowly than the tomato seeds, this shows that the culture of tomatoes and these plants is in fact not exactly the same- the husk cherries definitely take longer to germinate.

The seedlings are tiny- I don't even see true leaves yet, but they seem healthy enough. They are like 1/10 scale tomato seedlings at this point.

So has anyone else grown them? Are there any other surprises or information I need to know about? We were planning on planting them at the edge of the plot in the places not good enough for the "real" crops- is it correct that these things are tough enough to stand some abuse?

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ajkmt(z5 PA)

Here in my SW PA garden, my ground cherries pop up about the first or second week in June. These are all last years fruit that fell off and were not picked up. They will grow almost anywhere in my expereance. They where coming up in a bare patch of earth from the recently removed chicken coop. DH kept mowing them off and they just kept a growing, though I could harvest nothing from them.
After they are about 1 ft high, plastic of news paper mulch would be a benfit, because you want to pick up the fruit off the ground after it has fallen off. That is when it is ripe. The paper shells should be tan or starting to turn tan. The fruit sould be yellow, NOT GREEN. After picking the up, spread on newapaper in a cool area that won't freeze. Peel them after a month or so. They are best when the fruit starts to look slightly transparent. DD can eat these straight from the garden while picking them up, me, then need to be sugared in a pie or jam.
Hope you found something usefull from my rambling.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 5:46PM
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I'm wondering now if I should plant them in cinder block holes... we have some cinder blocks around the edge of the garden, only one block deep. They are about half buried in the ground. My wife wants to put flowers in all of them, but maybe she'll let me put one of these things in just to see how it works out. Good to hear they aren't picky about where they grow...

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 6:33PM
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jusme_newby(5b North-Central MO)

I just bought some Ground Cherry [Or Strawberry Husk Tomato] seeds at my local grocery store. They have a display from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri. Here are the Planting Instructions from the back of the seed packet:

"Start seed indoors 4-8 weeks prior to the last frost of spring. Seeds are covered only slightly to allow light which sometimes assists germination. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Containers are held in warm conditions until sprouts appear, which may take anywhere from 3-10 days, depending on temperature, moisture, etc. Move sprouted plants immediately to bright light conditions, such as a south-facing window or under a grow-light setup. After the last frost, set out seedlings into the garden and space 18' apart."

Here is what they have to say about the Ground Cherry:

"Huge yield of tart-sweet berries. This is the common type, used by the Pilgrims; excellent for pies, jams, and preserves of all kinds, also delicious fresh. Grow it the same as you would tomatoes."

Hope this helps....Both of us....:)

Here is a link that might be useful: Baker Seeds

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 6:40PM
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jusme_newby(5b North-Central MO)

BTW, I have never heard of peeling them. Where did you hear about that and do you have any information (recipes?) you would like to share?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 6:44PM
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I have seen them growing in soil-filled areas of drainage ditches as well as on gravel "beaches" at the side of the river. I haven't eaten any yet but this year I will definitely want to go and try some of the wild ones...after getting a positive ID of course.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 7:08PM
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ajkmt(z5 PA)

When I say peel, I mean take the paper husk off. Leaving them in the husk for a month or so helps them ripen.

I could gather some recipes if you want...pie, ground cherry jam and a dessert that uses a cake mix.

Another thought...I read somewhere....they are part of the nightshade family and they need to be ripe (unripe posionus) That is why I stressed they need to be yellow and NOT GREEN. Ture or not I'm not sure, I need to see if I can find that info again.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 10:22PM
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I've heard that green tomatoes contain alkaloids that go away after ripening. Same for a lot of edible nightshade fruit, I'm sure. I don't eat green tomatoes for that reason, and also because I MUCH prefer the taste of ripe ones.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2009 at 11:05PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

I have grown different kind of ground cherries in different climates.
I found that the ones with the best flavor are orange when ripe. Not yellow.
I tried the variety Cossack pineapple last season and it is not my favorite.

I start them the same as tomatoes. They spread and are much shorter, no special care. They will grow in any soil once established. Perennial if there is no freeze.

They can be eaten fresh, made into a pie or preserves.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 8:25PM
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whgille, what variety of ground cherry was it that you grew which was orange in color when ripe? I'm growing them for the first time this year from seed savers and know absolutely nothing about them other than what I've read from posts on gardenweb!

Thank you!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 11:32AM
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bean_counter_z4(Zone 4, Rkfd,IL)

I'm growing them this year for the first time. My friend recommended them saying they were one of his favorite pies. Here is a recipe if anyone wants to try it.

A simple Amish recipe for pie.

* 2-1/2 cups ground cherries
* 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
* 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons water
* 1 (9 inch) pie shell
* 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 3 tablespoons white sugar
* 2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Wash ground cherries and place in unbaked pie shell. Mix brown sugar and 1 tablespoon flour and sprinkle over cherries. Sprinkle water over top. Mix together 3 tablespoons flour and 3 tablespoons sugar. Cut butter in until crumbly. Top cherry mixture with crumbs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and continue to bake for 25 minutes until crumbs are golden brown.

photo from Vesey seeds

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 3:36PM
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whgille(FL 9b)


Here is a picture of Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry I grew last season with a Green Zebra and Black Cherry Tomatoe.

The new seeds I am trying now I recieved as an exchange (unknown variety). They turn orange when ripe not yellow like the ones in the picture. When I get some fruit I can send you some seeds if you are still interested.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2009 at 5:42PM
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Sounds very good Beancounter - I have a probably stupid question - Does it have a bottom crust or just the crumb mixture on top?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2009 at 7:55AM
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All of the culture info indicates to treat "just like tomatoes". Does this include planting the seedlings extra deep as you do with tomatoes? I usually bury my tomato seedlings all the way to the top set of leaves.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 8:09PM
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catman, I think green tomatoes are perfectly fine, my grandad loves to fry them up. I think he prefers them green, and he hasn't got sick from it yet.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 9:08PM
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They had a long discussion about these on the veggie forum, if anyone is interested, here is the link. I thought they had some great info as well as a link to a jam recipe. : )

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 9:19PM
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I guess the link didn't come out, sorry. Here it is again. You might have to copy/paste it.

Here is a link that might be useful: ground cherries

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 9:33PM
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Can anyone tell me if the ground cherry flowers should be pick off, like on tomatoes, if the plant starts flowering and producing fruit too soon? Mine are in 4" pots, and I waited too long to plant them. They were already producing cherries, but the plants are only about 6" high. They are Aunt Molly's so they get about 24"x18". I plucked off all the cherries before planting, but I wonder if I should take off the flowers, too.



    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 12:31PM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

Here's another discussion about them:

Mine germinated pretty quickly, I think, just a few days. They were a lot punier than tomato seedlings, though. I started some indoors and some outdoors, and the outdoor ones seemed to grow better and faster. Once I transplanted them, they took off.

I don't pinch blossoms, even on tomatoes. I think you'll be ok either way.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 2:47PM
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