News from our Elderberry Farm
Mother Nature has been especially kind to our elderberry farm this year. June in Hartsburg, Missouri is usually hot and dry, but not so this year. For the vast majority of the 10 days we were on the farm, the high temperature each day was in the 80s and dropped down into the 60’s at night which made for wonderful sleeping weather. We had one or two days where the temperature exceeded 90 degrees, and the outdoor shower and swimming pond provided relief from that heat. The farm has received plenty of rainfall this year and the fields, bushes and trees are a gorgeous, vibrant green. I can’t remember when the farm has looked so pretty!
We tripled our elderflower harvest this year, primarily due to the awesome help we received from Karen and Liz. Karen, Liz and I served as the primary elderflower harvesting team and Rodger and Bennett stepped in a couple times to give us the occasional and much appreciated assist. Each day you’d find us out in the fields looking for the perfect “just right” flowers. Elderberries have developed a wonderful survival strategy of flowering and fruiting over a long 8 to 10 week period. This strategy ensures that some flowers and some fruit will survive an insect invasion or a particularly bad stretch of weather.
A small section of one of elderberry orchards suffered an invasion of sawfly larvae this year and every plant within that section of the orchard was completely defoliated. There are some good organic controls for sawfly larvae. Since the damage was confined to about 50 square yards of one orchard, we decided to let them be. When you are committed to growing food with restorative agricultural methods you need to be prepared to give some of your crop up to mother nature. Amazingly, the elderberries are leafing out and beginning to flower and fruit now, which is a testament to the effectiveness of elderberry’s habit of flowering and fruiting over several months.
This strategy also means that at any given time you’ll find flowers and fruit in various stages of development on the same plant. Many of our bushes had 10 or 15 clusters of berries forming at the same time new flowers were coming on. Most times, only one or two flowers were just right for harvest.
Each day we’d take the harvested flowers into the barn to hang them on racks and strings for drying. Drying typically took 24 to 36 hours, and keeping the barn dry and warm is essential to creating a good product. The flowers have to be checked regularly, and de-stemmed, bagged and put away at just the right time or they will become over-dry and too brown for use. We sell the dried elderflowers on our website and will be launching one or two new products with elderflower this year.
Thanks to the awesome efforts of Bennett, Rodger and the chickens, our orchard behind the stage is looking great. The rows are well weeded, mulched, fed with a great organic fertilizer and minerals, and the irrigation is in and working! We are amazed at how happy the elderberries have become under Bennett and Rodger’s care; they are sending up new prima-canes everywhere and flushing with bright green new growth. The Japanese Beetles arrived the last week of June, and we are taking a multi-pronged approach to managing them this year. We’ve been handpicking the beetles and dropping them into soapy water, spraying OMRI approved AzaMax (a neem oil derivative), and for ultimate long term control, will be using Milky Spore and nematodes in the fall to control the Japanese Beetle when it is in its grub stage and lives underground. The chickens have been seen leaping into the upper branches of the elderberry bushes to eat the beetles too.