I was first introduced to currants as a small child while tagging along with my grandmother as she wandered the forests and roadsides picking wild berries. Those are days I will never forget as I not only learned about currants but service berries, thimbleberries, wild strawberries and many other wild edibles as well. She has long since passed on but I am sure it would make her happy to know the knowledge she imparted upon me has not been lost.
It seems as though currants, gooseberries, and josta berries (a cross between black currants and gooseberries) are not all that popular in the states, but are held in much higher regard by Europeans. I'm not sure why as they are such nice vigorously productive bushes. Not only are these members of the Ribes genus high in nutrition but also flourish in a wide array growing conditions and are easily propagated. One bush can turn into numerous productive bushes within a few years time. They do really well in partial shade with a nice well draining soil but can also be grown in full sun and heavy, even clay, soil if it has been improved upon enough to allow for drainage and root development. We are lucky as we have lots of shade and can provide an environment that the bushes seem to thrive in.
We have around 25 bushes in various stages of growth and look forward to a nice crop of berries every year. We use them in everything from fillings for puff pancakes to smoothies and any bad ones are a perfect addition to our chickens diet. I try to add a few new bushes every year through rooting hardwood cuttings and have had a near perfect success rate as they are so easily propagated.
There are various ways to propagate these bushes, my preference is with hardwood cuttings. In the fall or early spring while the plant is still dormant I simply cut 8-12 " sections off 1 year old wood about the size of a pencil, a little bigger or smaller will make no difference.
Older wood is recognizable by its darker bark and is usually much thicker.
Once you find a good place in the garden where the cuttings can root undisturbed, simply poke a dibber stick into the soil making a hole so as not to damage the nodes when you gently push the cutting in approximately 3/4 it's length leaving only the topmost bud or two exposed.
Remember to keep track of which end is up, this is pretty easy to tell on currants but not so much on other plants that can be rooted in the same manner such as dormant grapes. I set my cuttings in a place where the soil can be kept moist and has some protection from the sun and in about 4-6 weeks they will have new roots coming from a number of areas along the stem and can be transplanted to their new home.
Another method of propagating is called layering, we do this this by bending a low-growing branch to the ground and covering it with soil. The branch can be kept under the soil by weighing it down with a rock, or more soil to hold it in place. While this works well on currants, we mostly use this technique on blackberries and black raspberries all summer long and find it to be most effective. Once the roots are established, we simply cut the branch off dig it up and plant in its permanent location. Again this will take around 4 weeks or more.
A final way to generate roots is called mound layering. Although we have never tried mound layering it apparently works well if one is propagating a large number of plants. The plant is cut back to the ground while dormant and, in mid summer, dirt is mounded over the newly emerged shoots covering them about half of their length and roots will be produced on the portion covered with soil.
You can also germinate the berries seeds if they are stratified for three months at temperatures just above freezing, the refrigerator works perfect for this. We do stratify other seeds but have never tried this with currants or their kin. Supposedly the seedlings are very prolific and will bear fruit within two or three years.
In 1907 currant production was banned in the U.S. when it was discovered that members of the ribes genus, especially black currants, were host to white pine blister rust, a fungus that uses currants as a host plant to spread from tree to tree. The quarantine on ribe growing was lifted in 1966 when rust-resistant currant varieties were developed. Today in the Northwest, there are no federal restrictions on growing any of the ribes genus. There are a few states that still do not allow for the shipping of currants or gooseberries, as near as I can tell they are Delaware, Maine, N. Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and West Virginia. Black currants cannot be sent to those states or Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island. I find this interesting since the woods in Northern Idaho are full of wild currants and white pine trees, perhaps they have built up an immunity to the fungus.
It's unfortunate that so many people are missing out on such an easily grown and propagated source of nutrition. Currants, josta berries, and gooseberries are extremely healthy and some research is showing black currants to possibly have higher levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than any other fruit. Perhaps our taste buds have been so dulled by a conveniently obtained plethora of mass produced factory food that we are no longer willing to take advantage of what nature so readily provides. For us, the berries contribute yet another beneficial option in our ever expanding array of food choices as we continue down our path of achieving a lifestyle of health and food self-sufficiency.