Tuesday, February 16, 2016
I spent yesterday at an all day workshop sponsored by NOFA called Growing Elderberries in Vermont for Conservation, Health and Profit. It was held at the UVM. Here are some of my gleanings from the many talks. Apparently, after the hurricane Irene, when vegetable crops were ruined by the possibility of being contaminated by flood waters and made unsaleable, people started working on other crops for some of those areas and they came up with Elderberries. There is already such a program in Missouri--elderberries are a new experimental crop. They are a superberry, easy to grow, can thrive in heavy soils, and are only surpassed by Aronia in their antioxidant content. There is much folklore about elderberries, also known as danewort, sweet or American elder. If you sleep under an elder , you can meet the king of the fairies and, by the way, European elder is more tree form than our native species- with a trunk up to 10 inches in diameter, living as long as 50-75 years. Native Americans have used the plant somehow ceremonially. Canes have been used to blow into fires to get them going, for arrows and quivers. Besides using the berries for juice and food, the flowers for teas, cordials and tisanes(sp??), the bark and in fact all parts of the plant can be used medicinally. An herbalist, Guido Mase, spoke about all these medicinal properties but I'm not very versed in that sort of thing so won't go into it here (and I might it garbled). John Hayden from "The Farm Between" and David Fried of "Elmore Roots Nursery" both shared alot of their experience with elderberries--they have both been growing them for many years,and like and use them, Hayden now has 240 bushes and has been growing them successfully for 10 years, getting up to 10 pounds of fruit per bush. He started with a diversified farm with chickens, hogs, sheep, and rabbits is into perennial polyculture. The fruit is not so good right off the bush and they have to be de-stemmed. The varieties he mentioned are: 'Johns', 'Nova', 'Adams'(the earliest),'York'(one attender of this conference likes this variety above all others), 'Scotia', 'Wyldewood', 'Bob Gordon', and 'Marge' (a Sambucus nigra cultivar). By the way, several people I talked to have found the varieties of European elder not successful here. They haven't done too well for me- have never fruited but one is still alive. From planting (a 2 or 3 gal. size bush) it will take three years to produce fruit. Birds bother the ones with more upright bunches more than the ones with drooping fruit clusters. They can ripen overnight after harvesting. It may be best to pick at least some of them right away as soon as some drop when the bush is shaken or you might lose them all to birds( they need to netted. David Fried plants them in wetter area by setting the unpotted but well established plant on top of the sod, anchoring it with a stake and mounding up compost, etc., topping it off with mulch. They should be planted in rows 12 feet apart, 6 feet apart in the rows. Hardwood ramial chips are the best mulch--these are chopped twigs and leaves of branches under 3" in diameter- they don't steal nitrogen from the plants as sawdust would and aren't too acid as softwood chips are. One method Hayden uses for mulching is 2' wide strips or weedbarrier, on either side of the new row--using landscape staples to anchor it (it needs to get rolled up at the end of the season--and never mulched over). David Fried likes cardboard covered with mulch. Weeds are the worst pest for three years but then the bushes shade them out. Mowing and blowing and chopping and dropping need to be continued, also compost and these ramial woodchips--what one wants is a diverse microbial population in the rhizosphere. The spotted wing Drosophila (SWD) is the main insect pest which has just gotten to our area and attacks soft, late season fruits such as elderberries, late raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and mulberries. If one diversifies, one is better off as certain crops are better in certain years. There are other insect pests but the SWD is the only one I have. To succeed, elderberries need good, well drained soil, ammendments, weed control and irrigation. I make mine into juice with a mixture of Dolgo crabapples--one quarter cup of sugar to one quart of juice. I don't think it tastes so good on its own. This conference went into the economics of growing elderberries which I also won't go into. In pruning, we have found one can be quite brutal--taking them way down and they still bear very well and being shorter are easier to net from birds. It's easy to lose them all in one day from birds.