“Thousands of tons are wasted every year”. That’s what Euell Gibbons said in his field guide edition of “Stalking the Healthful Herbs” first published in 1970. He was referring to the wild elderberry. By “wasted” he meant it was unused, except, perhaps, by the birds. He saw it as a waste because it is a true native wild fruit that grows from coast to coast, is very easy to harvest, and is packed with calcium, Vitamins A, B and C, iron, phosphorus, and potassium.
There is good evidence that elderberries were cultivated in the Stone Age in Italy and Switzerland. The North American wild elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is so successful a member of the plant world that I suggest you join the ‘grow your own food’ movement and beautify you landscape at the same time. Its European counterpart, Sambucus nigra (of two million years ago), is equally successful, although quite a bit larger. It can grow to 30 feet as compared to our American native’s 10 to 12 feet. Both can be cut back to reasonable levels for management and harvest with no ill effects.
Elderberries are one of the easiest plants to grow. They are virtually pest free and therefore will be organic in your landscape, as no sprays will be required. They are very hardy, and easy to grow and maintain. They provide flowers and fruit that offer intense aroma, flavor and color.
Today’s cultivated varieties of elderberries are vigorous and productive. Their fruit is generally larger and sweeter that the wild native ones. If your interest is more about growing your own flowers and fruit, there are varieties that are recommended to max out those qualities. Even then, these plants are showy ornamentals that the birds love if the fruit is left on the plant.
They are also lovely shrubs that lend themselves to attractive use in your home and grounds landscape. There are cultivars that resemble very closely the color and texture of Japanese maples. One, Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’, a.k.a. “Black Lace” has thick and lacy purple-black foliage and massive pink flower clusters in late spring. Another, ‘Gerda’, a.k.a. “Black Beauty”, boasts lacy, near black foliage with masses of rberries
pink lemon-scented flower clusters.
I’m writing this article now because the nurseries are open and spring is the very best time to plant elderberries. Elderberries are so prolific that you will probably harvest flowers and fruit next year from plants put in the ground this year. Do a little research, see what cultivars your local nursery has, and if you want something in particular, ask them to get it for you. They will, if they value your patronage.
The elderberry plant is very versatile. Blooming in late June with large clusters of white or cream-colored flowers, it is a striking ornamental shrub. In September, the transformed blossoms become masses of purple-black plump fruit so heavy they bend the stems over with their weight.
The white-petaled flower clusters are also known as elderblow. Dried quickly after harvesting, these can be made into wine, herbal tea, added to pancakes, muffins, and custards. They can be dipped in a favorite batter and fried like fritters. They have been used for centuries in traditional folk medicine to treat colds, fever, and flu. The Egyptians used the flowers for improving the complexion and treating burns. There is much folklore that goes back centuries about using this plant and all its parts.
The fruit, once cooked, makes delicious wine, jam, pie, and syrup, even elderberry brandy for the very patient. The fruit and all green parts of the plant harbor a mild cyanide toxicity that is destroyed in cooking. The beautiful color has also been used as a fabric dye, coloring and flavoring agent for other foods including ice creams and desserts.
As you know, I’m fond of encouraging readers to try something new or different. Elderberries would be one to consider. They are not very expensive, are very easy to grow, are nearly pest free, and numerous cultivars are available that will satisfy even the most jaded gardener. Flowering after many other fruits, they are almost never bothered by frost.
They are strong and vigorous growers, and their fruit clusters are large and productive. The best cultivars to explore are Adams No.1, Adams No. 2, York, Johns, Kent, Nova, Scotia, and N.Y. 21. Don’t overlook the highly ornamental ones like the two mentioned above. They will pollinate one another just fine. Remember, elderberry plants are generally not self-fruitful. Two plants are required to provide dependable crops.
Elderberries tolerate a wide range of soil types in the slightly acidic range between pH 5.5 to 6.5. Moist, fertile, well-drained soil is best, but humus, compost, aged manure or organic matter can be added to sandy or loamy soil. Constantly wet spots should be avoided. These plants really aren’t very fussy, but grow best in bright light to full sun.
Spring is the ideal time to plant them. The abundant rainfall is one of the reasons. They are shallow rooted and must not be allowed to dry out the first year. In the absence of rainfall, water deeply once a week. Mulching helps conserve moisture and inhibits weeds.
Place plants an average of six to ten feet apart, if you are seriously going for fruit instead of ornamental value. If you just wish to try a few for mixed fruit and ornamental values, spacing will not be an issue.
After the first year in the ground, spring fertilization with ammonium nitrate and superphosphate in moderate amounts will earn a favorable result.
Remembering that elderberries are shallow rooted will remind one that weeding should best be accomplished by hand pulling. Avoid disturbing the roots by any but the lightest cultivation, never deeper than two inches. Mulches might be the best option to prevent damage to new upright shoots.
Each year elderberry plants send up multiple canes that attain maximum height in a single season. The following season these canes begin to develop lateral branches. It is these two-year-old canes that are most fruitful. Most plants sold are a year or two when put into the ground.
Canes four year old and older become weak and brittle and should be pruned out while plants are dormant, usually late winter or early spring. The remaining one, two and three-year-old canes will provide a wonderful plant and plentiful flowers and fruit, whether planted for fruit or ornament.
The fruit matures from late August into early October depending on the cultivar. Collect the fruit when fully ripe before the birds find them. Remove the entire clusters of fruit and then remove the berries from the clusters. Use the fresh fruit as soon as possible or refrigerate if a delay is necessary. You might also dry the fruit.
Some of you might think removing the fruit will be tedious. The fruit come off the clusters very easily. A great hint from an old Mother Earth News column states, “Simply put a small piece of 1/2 inch mesh hardware cloth over a bucket or large bowl and rub the berry bunches across the screen. The fruit will come off cleaner (and with less bruising) than if you’d picked them all by hand!”
Grow some very healthful organic fruit, and beautify your homestead at the same time.
My project this spring has been to further explore means for introducing chance into composed works.
This spring, as the snowdrop flowers announced the change of the season and new vitality, I used digital imaging to place the flowers along an east-west axis, with each flower representing a note of the whole-tone scale .. so that the relationships between the growing plants dictated a melodic line.
The flowers don’t describe any particular human emotion .. they talk about transformation on another level; it’s very subtle.
Further introducing chance elements by omission via the dice .. like the passage of time. Only some flowers are left standing, to glow most brightly. .. with an echo, an ongoing presence, like the life of the plants underground, scent or a bit of memory.
The appearance of the snowdrops in dried grass is the basis of Hill Sound 16.
Naturally digital imaging can be used to turn other forms into music, corresponding with seasonal shifts.
For the collaborative project ‘Nostalgia/Analgesic’, spoken word will also be transformed into music, as well as some visual parts of the work.
My dad couldn’t tear me away from a stickball game to help him with his rose bushes. It was more than a few years later, a Vietnam War, a marriage and divorce, and I was growing things and developing a deep love of plants. It was at this time that I experienced the parasitic plant “dodder” first hand, before I understood it and learned about it. Passions are like that, from my first houseplant to today. What a pleasurable journey it has been so far.
In the mid-nineties I became enraptured by a plant and seed catalog that I read cover to cover: “Oregon Exotics Nursery - Subzero to Subtropical - The adventurous gardener’s guide to rare crops of the world!” The very title was the beginning of a new and different seduction. I soon learned I was in wonderful company in thinking beyond our traditional boundaries.
At about this same time some local Sullivan County farmers were thinking entrepreneurially. What an exciting thing to experience! Local men and women were willing to try growing new crops. The produce they planned to grow was for the most part unproven in Sullivan and Ulster counties, but proven in the New York City restaurant trade and the Green Market at Union Square. Fingerling potatoes, red, yellow and purple, marble potatoes, Russian banana potatoes - these were a few. Varieties of heirloom tomatoes from around the world were being grown in Sullivan County, many for the very first time.
Heirloom vegetables and fruits are the rage these days, and Farmers’ Market vendors supply as much and as many varieties as their customers will try. Many people want to eat the real whole foods of their ancestors. There are countless new introductions as well as heirloom varieties that most of us have never tasted, much less attempted to grow.
On Feb.1, 2007 a scientific study announced finding fossil evidence of a 6,000-year-old chili pepper that was grown and traded throughout Central and South America....read more
Winter rarely gives up reign easily in the Catskills and this year it seems will be no exception. The National Weather Service in Albany has issued a Winter Storm Warning for this evening that includes Denning. The snow will start falling tonight after 9pm and last well into Tuesday. Before it’s through, it’ll likely dump 8 to 10 inches of snow along with an inch or two of sleet or freezing rain.
And just when you were starting to think of all things Spring. But then again, you know better.
The Times Herald Record reported today that Time Warner Cable will expand service in Denning, bringing high-speed internet access to 125 additional homes. The expansion is part of the Connect NY Broadband Grants announced this week by Governor Andrew Coumo.
Town Supervisor Bill Bruning has contacted Time Warner Cable to find out which areas of Denning the expansion will include. The town had participated in the Connect NY Broadband Grant program along with Time Warner Cable. The grant application began with efforts by long time resident Patti Candelari who put together the initial application which was later adopted by the town and Time Warner Cable under Supervisor Bruning.
Hill Sound 14: full moon, snowfall, changing weather.
The National Weather Service of Albany has issued a Winter Storm Warning which includes Denning. The warning is in effect from 11pm tonight through 6am Thursday. They say Denning could see anywhere from 6-12 inches with winds gusting as high as 50mph.
Denning escaped the outages and missed most of the snow from the last winter storm warning, but with temperatures hovering in the 20s and 30s, the snow from this storm promises to be much more wet and heavy. Combine that with those gusts and, well, we all know the drill.
Central Hudson is continuing its investigation into a weekend cyber-security attack within its computer network. While there is still no evidence that any customer information was downloaded or misused, the utility has now determined that the number of potentially affected customers is limited to approximately one third of its customer database.
“We will be using an automated telephone system to call all of our customers for whom we have telephone contact information to alert them as to whether they are potentially affected or not by noon tomorrow,” said Central Hudson President James P. Laurito. He stressed that no evidence has been uncovered to date that confirms that any information was transferred during the attack, and that Central Hudson is taking these notification steps as an added precaution.
“The approximately 110,000 customers whose account information was potentially affected will receive from us via U.S. mail an offer of a full year of complimentary credit monitoring as a precaution,” Laurito said. All other customers will be receiving telephone and mail notification that their account is not involved in the investigation.
Central Hudson is conducting its own investigation into the incident, and will continue to work with state and federal law enforcement officials as part of that investigation.
Hill Sound # 13
Spring seethes underground, its arctic skin vanishing.
Daylight holds a fragrant power.
A solemn buzz crosses the airwaves: a sigh from space.
Soon the moon will grow a new quarter.
I remember where I am.
On Feb 12, the Town of Olive, New York, in Ulster County near the Ashokan Reservoir, passed an ordinance banning fracking and any activities related to fracking, including storage and transport of waste materials, anywhere within the Town’s borders. This happened thanks to the efforts of Olive Defense Against Fracking, a very small local group of dedicated individuals.
This doesn’t end the horrors of fracking, of course, but Olive joins 150 other towns in New York State which have passed such a ban.