Mind Your Elder!

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis) have been grown for centuries by Europeans for both their rich flavor of the fruit and for their reputation to prevent and cure many illnesses.  They are gaining popularity in North America recently and are worth their weight in gold for their beautiful medicinal flowers and the unique taste of the fruit.

Elder flowers and berries are popular and effective remedies for colds, flu, fevers, and inflammation.  The berries are rich in vitamin A and C content, and play a role in the health of the immune and respiratory systems.  The berries also contain significant amounts of flavonoids and anthocyanin that are heart protective.

Planting:

Elderberries like a sunny location with room to spread.  They thrive in a deeply amended soil with organic matter and moist soil conditions.  Set young plants 5 foot apart and 10 foot away from other plantings such as other fruiting trees.  Elderberry flowers are self-pollinating, but the plants are more productive if two or more cultivars are planted near each other.

General Care:

Apply a thick layer of organic mulch or compost to conserve moisture.  If plants aren’t growing well, apply an organic plant food containing nitrogen under the mulch.  Otherwise, fertilization usually isn’t needed when compost is used around the base each spring.  Be sure to water in dry seasons.

Pruning Elderberries:

Prune away any dead canes in the early spring and cut out all the old canes whenever bushes become crowded.  Vigorous elderberries produce an abundance of suckers, so keep plants neat by frequent clipping.  Some people will even mow around the base of elderberry bushes to keep them in their place.  Dig transplant suckers if you want new plants to share with a neighbor or friend.

Problems of Elderberries:

Generally speaking, elderberries are free from disease and insect pest, but birds love the fruit.  If birds aren’t to numerous and you have the space, plant extra bushes…. giving the birds a little to eat.  When berries are abundant, birds tend to tire of them after a few days and leave the ones that ripen later.  You can pick the berries a few days before they are ripe if birds are a problem, and set them in a warm room, where they will continue to ripen.

Winter Damage can be a problem some years.  The plant’s roots are very hardy, but extreme cold sometimes injures the canes.  Fortunately, the fruit forms on new growth, so even when damage is severe, it seldom affects the crop.  Since blooms don’t appear until summer, late spring frosts never seem to hurt them.  If you live in cold climates where fall frosts come early, plant early ripening cultivars to insure a crop.

Harvesting Flowers and/or Elderberries:

The tiny white clusters are not only beautiful, but delicious.  Pick them as soon as they open.  Flowers can be used to make oxymels for preventive cold and flu care or used as a tasty healthy tea.  Add a few clusters of flowers to a gallon glass jar filled with water and a bit of lemon juice and honey.  Set it in the sun for a day, then strain out the flowers.  Yum! And good for you!

Soon after blooming, the green fruits form and ripen to a rich dark color.   Pick the whole fruit cluster head and strip the berries later when you’re ready to use them.  Elderberries are best put into tarts, pies, pancakes and desserts or process the into jelly, juice or wine.  Too many raw elderberries can make ones tummy upset.

Elderberries are excellent made into cough syrup.  They are a great substitute for blueberries in many recipes.

Elder flowers can be dried for winter use and the berries can be frozen or dried, also for winter use.  I think every household should have elder flowers and berries on hand, especially in the winter months!

Elderberry Cultivars:

Cultivars that I have had the best success with in my zone 8 climate is ‘Nova”, and ‘York’ both  large-fruited, productive, and slightly later than some other varieties.  ‘Adams’ is an earlier ripening medium-sized berry.

 

Elderberry Syrup:

Fresh, frozen or dried berries can be used for this recipe.

3 cups water

1 cup fresh, frozen or dried elderberries

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

1/2 to 3/4 cup honey, depending on your taste

Combine the water, elderberries, and ginger in a saucepan, bring to boil over medium heat.  Simmer with lid ajar, 30-40 minutes.

Strain mixture, mashing the berries to get all the juice.

Stir in the honey and cook over low heat until syrup thickens.

Pour into a glass jar, cover tightly, and let cool.  Stop in the refrigerator up to 4 months.

Caution:

Know your plants!  Sambucus racemosa, which is a toxic red berry rather than the edible deep blue/purple and is a lookalike cousin..  They are easy to tell apart when they are ripe, but more difficult when in flower.

 

 

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Protecting Seedlings from Damping-Off

Many gardeners have experienced the disappointment of sowing seeds, watching them germinate, and carefully tending the tiny, apparently healthy seedlings only to find them one morning keeled over dead and rotting. The cause is an attack of damping-off fungi. These pathogens can kill seedlings even before they emerge from the soil.

Damping-off fungi are present in most gardens, and virtually every kind of seedling is vulnerable; no resistant cultivars have been developed.

Nevertheless, the disease can be prevented if you take a few simple precautions. The most important step, is to minimize the risk of exposure to the fungus itself. It is also important to avoid high nitrogen levels and excess moisture in the soil and to ensure adequate light, whether natural or artificial. Poor light results in spindly seedlings that are more likely to infection.

Tips for starting healthy seedlings:

Seeding Indoors. Use either a new container or if using used containers, disinfect with a 10 percent bleach solution. Dry. Fill planting containers with a sterile seedling mix. Do not use compost or garden garden soil, since it may contain damping-off fungi. Sow seeds, cover to depth suggested by the seed pack with vermiculite or perlite, both of which are free of pathogens and drain quickly. Water, but do not let containers soak in water. Before watering again, be sure soil is not already moist. If the soil is to wet , it can and likely will encourage damping-off fungi. Keep soil slightly moist, but let the surface dry out slightly before watering. Air circulation will encourage healthier growth. Using a fan works well. Keep seeds away from cold drafts such as a window at night when temperatures are cooler. Windows are great to put your seedling in for the sunlight during the day, but remove from the window sill at night, as windows can be cold at night time. Do not fertilize with nitrogen until the seedlings begin to produce true leaves- these follow the first growth of leaves to sprout.

It’s so satisfying starting your own selected seeds at home. Not only do you have a larger selection when choosing from seeds, but its more rewarding. Kids love to start seeds indoors too!

Seed Starting Supplies

Organic Seeds

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8 Tips for A Kitchen Garden to Keep it Pleasing to the Eye and Taste

Heirloom vegetables are the staples in our kitchen garden with an array of different colors, like purple beans, red okra, white eggplant and a variety colorful tomatoes. All these add to the interest of the kitchen garden. Because our garden is front and center and used as a demo garden as well for classes we are always looking for ways to enhance its beauty without sacrificing production. Here’s 8 practical and pleasing tricks to try in your kitchen garden.

1. Growing a few vibrantly colored vegetables can punctuate expanses of green in the garden. The deep purple pods of peas and beans will stop you in your tracks. Burgundy bean for summer time and Blauwschokkers pea spring are my favorites. Listada eggplants are beautifully stripped and prolific making them a perfect summer time eye-catch!

2. When placing plants, be sure there’s a method to your mixture. Vegetables are typically grown in rows of a single variety, which makes spacing easy, simplifies cultivation, and keeps the garden looking tidy, but by mixing rows of color, texture, and form will create a tapestry pleasing to the eye. Such as planting a row of green and red leaf lettuce, green heading lettuce, the red and frilly ‘Lollo Rossa” lettuce, Ruby Red Chard and Purple Kohlrabi all work great together and look amazing.

3. Painted stakes lend an artistic touch and last longer. Since plant supports are going to be seen, why not make them attractive? 1×1 stakes can be cut all the same length, then painted a soothing blue-green or a flashy color if you like. Stake them into the ground to the same height. This visual uniformity helps keep the tomato patch looking good. The paint also prolongs the life of the stake a bit. Over time, as the bottoms rot, they can be sawn off cleanly and the stakes reassigned to shorter plants, like peppers.

4. Don’t hesitate to tuck flowers right in among the vegetables. A beautiful combination of purple violas with red cabbage are dynamite together. The purple flowers of the viola pick up the reddish-purple veins in the cabbage leaves. Plus violas are edible!

5. Nothing beats fresh produce simply prepared. Just minutes after picking, fava beans return to the garden, lightly steamed, and drizzled with olive oil, pesto, and balsamic vinegar. The pesto made in a blender while the fava beans steamed. Enjoying a meal surrounded by the beautiful garden that produced it is the best seasoning of all. A little bistro table tucked in the garden makes a great spot for this simple garden dish to be enjoyed.

6. Tiles make long-lasting plant markers. In a garden with so many unusual varieties and so many curious visitors, easy-to read plant markers are a real plus. Terra-cotta tiles, which are inexpensive, good looking, and will last indefinitely if not left out over winter.

7. Raffia, hemp and Jute is a natural for tying up plants. It’s unobtrusive, strong, flexible, inexpensive, and will last the season. And come fall, they can go right in the compost with the spent plant.

8. Bamboo makes a great natural fence or pea trellis. By crisscrossing bamboo, you can grow peas up it making a living fence or adding this crisscrossed bamboo on an edge where vegetable bushes like to fall over beds into paths, will tidy up paths, keeping plants in place.

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Lavender Lemonade Fizz

Over the last several years we have been fermenting like crazy and really loving it! Here is a simple lemonade that doesn’t require a lot of time or effort and we think is really quite refreshing on a hot summer day. I keep two going all the time on the counter and one in the frig!

Lavender Lemonade Fizz

7 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup raw honey

1 T white wine vinegar

4 tablespoons fresh or dried lavender flowers

2 lemons, sliced into 1/4” round

Combine the water, honey, vinegar, lavender, and lemon in a clean half-gallon mason jar, cover with a lid, and shake well until all the honey has dissolved. Set the mixture aside to ferment, covered, at room temperature for 2 days.

After 2 days, strain out the lavender and lemon. Transfer the liquid into glass bottles with a tight fitting lid, leaving about 1/2” of headroom in each bottle. The lids need to be tight-fitting to contain the carbonation that is going to develop. If the lids do not fit tightly, the carbonation will escape from the bottles, leaving you with a still delicious yet non-carbonated beverage.

Set the bottles aside in a cool, dark place to ferment for 3 days. Then open one the bottles to taste it. If the soda is still not carbonated, put the lid back on and let the bottles continue fermenting. Taste regularly. The length of time needed to produce carbonation will vary depending on the temperature and the activity of the natural yeast in your fizz.

Once the lemonade reaches the desired carbonation, transfer the bottles to the refrigerator. The cold temperature will slow the fermentation process and keep the carbonation level as it is.

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