Easy Tomato Cousins to Grow: Sunberries

If you enjoy growing tomatoes, but want to grow something even easier and more relentless, tomatoes have a few cousins you might enjoy growing! I’m growing their two more “fruity” cousins this year (sunberries and ground cherries) and have tried a tomatillo in the past but made a very stupid mistake with it. I’m breaking this post into three parts I’ll post over the next few days – today we’re talking about sunberries.

Sunberries are probably the cousin you have never heard of or seen before. They have a few common names, another of which is wonderberries. I bought my first sunberry plant from (now retired) Helga’s Herbs at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market about 5 years ago.

The berries are pea-sized and dark purple, almost black, when ripe. They have tiny white seeds which are similar to those of ground cherries. They taste terrible raw – almost like sweet and salty wine. Disappointed in them that first year, I let the berries fall into the garden without eating many of them, and about 500 plants popped up again the next year. I pulled them out, but they came back yet again the following summer.

An online search of what to possibly do with all these horrible tasting berries led me to discover that sunberries make wonderful jam! It doesn’t taste like any other jam or preserve I’ve had before, and I covet it as a special treat to put on really good bread.

While a sunberry plant can produce quite a lot of berries, they are still very small, and I try not to keep too many plants because they compete with the rest of my garden. I thus get a yield that makes me about one jar of jam per year. Once they start to ripen I can pick a handful or two a day which I freeze until I have enough to make jam.

Should you grow sunberries? If you have the space for them, don’t mind that they will relentlessly reseed year after year, and can find a way to use them. They are also very easy to pull out if they’ve seeded themselves, so they aren’t the worst nuisance. I embrace them in my garden!

The berries are currently still green, but they’ll ripen until the frost destroys the plants

To grow sunberries, find a friend with a sunberry problem and get a few ripe berries from them (normally Early’s sells the seeds, but they appear to be sold out right now). Throw them in a patch of dirt and forget about them until next summer.

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