Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seedling Trees from Your State‏

Did you know most states in the U.S. have an official state nursery? These nurseries offer tree seedlings, perfectly suited for your state's climate, for significantly cheaper than you could buy them from a private nursery. Many of these trees are lumber trees, but there are a number of "wildlife" trees that produce fruits that are just fine for human consumption: apples, persimmons, elderberry, sumac, plums, walnuts, chestnuts, pawpaws, black cherry, and oaks, to name a few. These trees are not going to be improved varieties which you would find at grocery stores or farmers markets, but they will produce edible fruits and nuts. If you have a larger property which you would like to reforest with trees that have more use than just lumber, then take a look at your state's (or a neighboring state's) site.

I have placed links below to every state's nursery/seedling tree program that I could find. Some states do not have an official nursery anymore, mainly due to funding issues. Some states may have one, but I couldn't find it. Some state's information was rather confusing, so I just placed the link to the most current flyer/orderform (typically a PDF file); in this case, you may need to use the contact information on the flyer to obtain the most recent order form.

If you have information on a state for which I do not have a link, please let me know. If one of the links is dead, please let me know as well, as I would love to keep this up to date.

Listing of State Tree Seedling Programs

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Milk Kefir

Kefir grains, a microscopic workforce ready for action.

“Why do we have to have things growing on the counters… all the time?”

This is a rather common question in my home as I am constantly fermenting food and drink. I have developed a passion for it. I have developed a passion for the flavor and nutritional benefits of fermented foods as well.
Fresh milk with kefir grains just added (on the left); mature kefir (on the right).
My latest project is kefir. Kefir is a specific type of fermented milk. For those that are turned off by the idea of “fermented milk”, just remember that cheese and yogurts are also cultured (i.e. fermented) milk products.

The key to producing kefir is the use of kefir grains. These “grains” are really a complex community of bacteria and yeast that live together in a mutually beneficial, community-built and maintained matrix of proteins, fats, and sugars. The grains resemble small florets of cauliflower. This group of organisms are sometimes called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeast). Kefir grains contain well over a dozen different species in varying proportions depending on the source and circumstances of growth.

Making milk kefir is simple. Fresh milk is added to a jar with a small amount of kefir grains. 6-48 hours later, depending on how sour you like it, the grains are strained out to be used for another batch, and the resulting Kefir is used as desired.

Kefir reminds me of a thin yogurt. If it is left to sit longer (about 48 hours), it develops a stronger, more sour, flavor that reminds me more of a stronger cheese… a bit like blue cheese or Roquefort. If only fermented for 6-12 hours, it is like a very mild yogurt.
Kefir-stuffed tomatoes over mixed salad greens... with a Hofbrauhaus beer on the side!

Traditionally, milk kefir is used as a drink. To be honest, I am not crazy about drinking it. It’s just a bit too much. But I do use it in a lot of my meals. Here are some examples:
  • Straight as a salad dressing
  • As a cooling dip (like blue cheese) for spicy grilled chicken (Thai and Indian) or wings
  • Mixed with herbs and spooned into tomato halves
  • Mixed with another cheese (I’ve tried Havarti, Gouda, and Cheddar) and used as an omelet filling
  • As a replacement for yogurt in any savory dish that you do not need the thicker consistency of yogurt (I’ve used it in soups and Indian dishes)

Milk kefir is easy to make. Easy to maintain. Easy to use. Has a great flavor. On top of that, it introduces plenty of beneficial microbes to you gastrointestinal tract. I highly encourage everyone to give it a try.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Yarrow

Yarrow, a small herb with a big list of attributes.

Common Name: Yarrow
Scientific Name: Achillea species
Family: Asteraceae (The aster, daisy, or sunflower family)

Common Species:
  • English Mace/Sweet Yarrow (Achillea argeratum): Zone 7, edible leaves (fair), tea from leaves
  • Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Zone 2, edible leaves (pretty good), most common species used for food and medicine... the rest of this article is basically about this species; however, they all share very similar characterstics
  • Sneezeweed/White Tansy Yarrow (Achillea ptarmica): Zone 5, edible leaves (fair)
  • Siberian Yarrow (Achillea sibirica): Zone 6, edible leaves (fair)

Yarrow flowers are small, but extremely attractive to beneficial insects.
Yarrow is a small herbaceous plant that is currently used decoratively for its pretty flowers; however, in traditional times Yarrow was used as a food source and a medicinal plant (hence the name "soldier's woundwort"). It also happens to be drought resistant, a great groundcover tolerant of foot traffic, an attractor of beneficial insects, and much, much more. One of the most versatile plants in the food and Forest Garden.
There are about 85 species in the Achillea genus found mostly in Europe, Asia, and North America. Yarrow species have been used for food and medicine for thousands of years, and it has only been recently that the traditional uses of Yarrow have been all but forgotten. Most recent cultivars have all be developed for flowering characteristics. Fortunately, this is a very resiliant plant, and it can be found almost everywhere.

  • The genus (Achillea) is named after the Greek mythological character Achilles whose soldiers used yarrow to staunch their wounds.
  • Other names for Common Yarrow was herbal militaris, staunchweed, soldier's woundwort, knight's milefoil, carpenter's weed, nosebleed weed, and many more... a plant used to stop bleeding at home, in the shop, or on the battlefield.
  • Dried, ground leaves from Sneezeweed/White Tansy Yarrow (Achillea ptarmica) is used as a sneezing powder.
  • Some species are considered poisonous to sheep, cattle, and horses.
  • Common Yarrow was part of the classic Gruit recipe for preserving ales before the widespread use of hops.
Modern Yarrow flowers come in more colors than just white.

Primary Uses:
  • Leaves - raw or cooked. The young, tender leaves are much more palatable and are a great addition to a mixed greens salad. Cooked leaves are also good, with a sweet and bitter flavor combined - a good spinach substitute
  • Decorative plant - flowers

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant - Plant for beneficial insects
  • Shelter plant for beneficial insects (bettles, lacewings, parasitic wasps, spiders)
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser
  • Pioneer Species
  • Drought Tolerant Species
  • Maritime Tolerant Species
  • Groundcover (space plants 6-18 inches apart), quite tolerant of foot traffic
  • Dynamic Accumulator (Potassium, Phosphorus, Copper)
  • Liquid Plant Feed - soak leaves in water for a few weeks, dilute with water, apply to plants
  • Dye (yellow and green) from flowers
  • Aromatic oils from seeds used as fragrance
  • Flavoring/preserving component to beers - Part of the traditional herbal mixture, Gruit (sweet gale, mugwort, ground ivy, horehound, heather, and yarrow, plus additional local herbs), much more common before the widespread use of hops
  • Tea Plant - leaves and flowers
  • Traditional medicial plant
Harvesting: Anytime there are leaves on the plant. Seed can be havested directly from the plant.
Storage: Leaves should be used immediately or within a few days. Keep in a cool location, as with other salad greens.

A large planting (wild in this case) of Yarrow is stunning.


Plant Type: Herbaceous Perennial
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species/varieties/cultivars/hybrids available.

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: Summer (June - September)
Life Span: relatively unimportant as this plant spreads so easily - if one area starts to die back, just cut it out and transplant runners from the edge back to the center

Yarrow leaf has long been compared to a feather.
Size: 6 inches to 3 feet (15-90 centimeters) tall, spreads as wide as allowed
Roots: Fibrous roots that send out runners (rhizomes) which allow the plant to grow indefinitely
Growth Rate: Fast

Yarrow, in its natural environment, is often an understory plant...
We can use this knowledge in our design, like this peach tree underplanted with Yarrow

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Can tolerate dry to medium moisture soils
pH: can tolerate a range of soils (5.1 - 7.5)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Spreads easily. Keep this in mind in choosing a location. Can often be planted in a grass lawn (on purpose!) as it can be cut low, tolerates foot traffic, and stays green later than most grasses.

Easily divided in Spring or Autumn. Will also easily root from cuttings 4+ inches (10 cm). Seeds planted at almost anytime other than cold Winters, germinate in 4-13 weeks.

Minimal. May need to work to keep in bounds.

  • Spreading habit - the roots are quite vigorous and can send up/out shoots extensively. Be sure to plant in an area where this is tolerable.
  • Poisonous (?) – Some people will develop an allergic rash, develop photosensitivity (skin becomes sensitive to sunlight), or can develop gastrointestinal discomfort when eating this plant or even coming into contact with it. I recommend sampling small amounts of this plant to determine personal tolerance first; if you can handle it, then enjoy!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Video: Killing Bees - Are Government and Industry Responsible?

Today is just a quick link to a video. This is an interesting documentary about honeybees and their decline over the last decade. There is a stong case to be made at placing the blame at the feet of government and agriculture corporations.

From their press release:
Whether you are a beekeeper, a conservationist, an ecologist, a food-producer or a parent - please take half an hour to watch this new American video documentary about the global death of honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinators. 

This is NOT just about the death of entire bee populations around the world, it is about the potential loss of 30% of our food supply and an all-out assault on the ecosystems of the world: insects, birds, amphibians, bats, fish - everything is threatened by the global distribution of hyper-toxic, neuro-toxic pesticides being applied to over 200 million acres of corn and crops in North America alone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bluegrass Bioneers

I was recently asked to participate in the Bluegrass Bioneers 2012 Conference. To be honest, I had never heard of the conference or even the term "bioneer", so I did a little research. While I don't think I agree with all aspects of the Bioneers movement (which is pretty typical for me), I do think much of what they are doing is very interesting, and I was very honored to be asked to be part of it. Unfortunately, living overseas did not allow me to participate this year; however I did want to let people know about this conference. If you are in the Louisville area on November 2-4, then consider attending.

So what is a Bioneer? From their website, it is described that founder Kenny Ausubel coined the term Bioneers in 1990 to describe an emerging culture. Bioneers are social and scientific innovators from all walks of life and disciplines who have peered deep into the heart of living systems to understand how nature operates, and to mimic "nature's operating instructions" to serve human ends without harming the web of life.

That sounds a lot like Permaculture to me. Pretty cool!

Check out their site and learn more.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Chestnuts

Chestnuts are a must for all Forest Gardens.

Common Name: Chestnut
Scientific Name: Castanea species
Family: Fagaceae (the Beech family)

Common Species:
  • Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata)
  • American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)
  • Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima)
  • American or Allegheny Chinquapin/Dwarf Chestnut (Castanea pumila)
  • Sweet/Spanish/European Chestnut (Castanea satvia)

Uncommon Species:
  • Bush Chinquapin (Castanea alnifolia)
  • Florida Chinquapin (Castanea ashei)
  • Florida Chestnut (Castanea floridana)
  • Unnamed? (Castanea paupispina)
  • Dode's Chestnut (Castanea davidii)
  • Henry/Chinese Chinquapin (Castanea henryi)
  • Seguin’s Chestnut (Castanea seguinii)
Most people familiar with Christmas music know “The Christmas Song” (commonly subtitled “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), but few people in the U.S. have ever eaten roasted chestnuts. This is mainly due to the Chestnut Blight that wiped out almost all the American Chestnuts on the continent and removed this nut from the American food chain. However, through breeding programs with the blight resistant Asian Chestnuts, the chestnut is becoming more and more available in the U.S. again, but not many people are familiar with this great nut anymore. It’s a pity. They are a wonderful Fall and Winter treat. The only places I ever enjoyed these seasonal snacks have been from street vendors on the Asian and European continents! Besides their wonderful nut, the tree has many other uses in the Forest Garden. This will be a must have tree (or trees, most likely) in my garden.
Sweet Chestnut Castenea satvia (aka Castanea vulgaris)

Chestnuts have been used around the world for timber, tools, crafts, firewood, and of course, food. There are many species, varieties, and hybrids available today.
Chestnut Blight, a disease that killed almost every Chestnut in America.

Chestnut Blight:
The American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata), native to eastern North America were once an important hardwood timber tree. This species is very susceptible to Chestnut Blight, a fungal disease caused by Cryphonectria parasitica. Chestnut Blight invades the bark through any wound to the tree. It will kill the cambium (a layer of tissue in the bark) in a circle all the way around the tree. This kills all living cells above the infection (a process known as girdling). The fungus was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900’s from either Chinese or Japanese Chestnut seedlings or lumber; these species are not killed by this infection. Within 40 years, almost the entire North American continent was devoid of American Chestnuts.

There have been many chestnut hybrids that have been created that are crosses of American Chestnuts and Asian Chestnuts. These trees and shrubs are typically significantly smaller than the true American Chestnuts, so they will not be used as a viable timber crop; however, many of them produce large, tasty nuts. This is good news to the homesteaders and forest gardeners.

There are some American Chestnuts that have survived the blight. A few isolated stands remained on the West Coast where the fungus was never introduced. There is a large stand in Wisconsin, and in the last ten years or so, there have been a number of isolated trees found which avoided the infection. Scientists are attempting to breed resistant hybrid chestnuts to these plants to produce chestnut trees that will eventually be mostly American Chestnut (minimum of 15/16ths) – plants that are resistant to infection, produce good nuts, and grow tall.
Chestnuts roasted on an open fire... fantastic by the way.

  • There are a large number of trees and shrubs named Chestnut or Chinquapin/Chinkapin around the world.
  • The Horse Chestnuts consist of numerous trees in the Aesculus genus which in general are inedible or very poisonous, and they are not related to true Chestnuts.
  • Water Chestnuts, common in Asian cuisine, are aquatic vegetables. The corm (a swollen, underground stem) is what is edible and slightly resembles the nut, but is not related to true Chestnuts.
  • There are a large number of evergreen tree species (Castanopsis genus) found in Asia known as Chinquapins, which are closely related to Chestnuts (Castanea genus).
  • There are two species of evergreen “Chinquapin” species (Chrysolepis genus) found in western North America, and they are also closely related to Chestnuts (Castanea genus).
  • The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is very highly susceptible to Chestnut Blight, the American Chinquapin (Castanea pumila) is very susceptible, the Sweet/Spanish/European Chestnut (Castanea sativa) is moderately susceptible but is not typically killed, and the Asian Chestnuts are minimally affected if at all.
  • The American Chestnut Foundation is the primary organization working to bring back the American Chestnut through breeding programs with resistant trees and the few surviving American Chestnut trees.
The nut needs to be separated from the burr before use.

Primary Uses:
  • Nuts, raw – can be sweet (American Chestnut) or astringent (European Chestnut)
  • Nuts, cooked – even the astringent nuts will become delicious when cooked or roasted or baked. Potato substitute.
  • Nuts, dried – best with a dehydrator, will store for years
  • Nuts, flour – Dried and ground nuts are used as a wheat flour substitute or adjunct
  • Nuts, oil – crushed nuts are boiled in water and the oils is skimmed off the top
Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) pollen plant
  • Wildlife food source
  • Reported to be a coffee and/or chocolate substitute
  • Tannin source – bark, wood, leaves, seed husks
  • Timber and carpentry wood
  • Firewood and charcoal
  • Logs for mushroom cultivation
  • Coppice plant – used for poles, posts, stakes, tools, firewood, charcoal, etc. Coppiced every 10-20 years. Coppiced trees will not produce nuts for a few years.
  • Windbreak species
  • Drought tolerant species
  • Landscape species, particularly in Europe

Yield: 20-40 lbs (9-18 kg), but varies greatly between species, cultivar, and age of the plant. 1,000-4,000 lbs (450-1800 kg) per acre (4,000 square meters) are common in commercial orchards.
Harvesting: Autumn (September – November). Harvest fallen nuts with open burrs. Some growers will lay nets under the trees to make harvest easier. Remove the nuts from the burrs (with thick gloves). Inspect the nuts for damage, worm holes, squirrel nibbles, rot, or any other damage.
Processing: The outer shell and inner skin must be removed from the nut before using. This can be done with the raw nut, after boiling in water for 30 minutes and scooped out with a spoon, or after roasting over an open fire, in the oven, or even in the microwave. (NOTE: if roasting/microwaving, pierce the skin at least once to let the moist heat escape as the nut cooks, or the nut may explode!) There are also specialized chestnut peelers that speed the process.
Storage: Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to a month. Stores in freezer for up to a year if airtight.
The American Chestnut was a huge, long lived tree (many were 200+ years old!)
The Shelton Family next to an American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Large, old Sweet/European Chestnuts (Castanea satvia) in Seattle

A young (20 year old) American/Chinese Chestnut Hybrid

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: 300-750 hours below 45 F (7C), depending on the species/hybrid/cultivar

Plant Type: Large Shrubs to Very Large Trees
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species and varieties available. There are also a large number of hybrids/crosses between species available that produce large, flavorful nuts. Hybrids typically are much smaller than wild specimens.

Pollination: Requires cross-pollination from at least one other variety/cultivar, and both will typically produce a nut crop. Some varieties/cultivars/hybrids are better for nut production, and others are better for pollination.
Flowering: Summer (June-July)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: Up to 20 years for a tree planted from seed. Grafted trees typically start production in 5 years.
Years to Maximum Bearing: up to 10 years, but varies on species and variety
Years of Useful Life: Chestnuts can live for hundreds of years

Chestnuts are harvested in Autumn.

Sweet/European Chestnuts (Castanea satvia) in flower

  • Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata): 20-50 feet (6-15 meters) tall and wide
  • American Chestnut (Castanea dentata): 75-100+ feet (23-30 meters) tall and 50-75 feet (15-23 meters) wide
  • Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima): 25-65 feet (7.5-20 meters) tall and wide
  • American Chinquapin (Castanea pumila): 6-26 feet (2-8 meters) tall and wide
  • Sweet/Spanish/European Chestnut (Castanea satvia): 65-115 feet (20-35 meters) tall and 50-75 feet (15-23 meters) wide
Roots: Trees often have a central taproot, and shrubs often have a fibrous or suckering root structure.
Growth Rate:
  • American Chestnut (Castanea dentata): Medium to Fast
  • Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima): Slow to Medium
  • American Chinquapin (Castanea pumila): Medium
American /Dwarf Chestnut (Castanea pumila) is much smaller than the American Chestnut
...but it can still grow to over 20 feet

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to medium moisture soils
  • American Chestnut (Castanea dentata): 3.5-6.0
  • Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima): 5.1-7.5
  • American Chinquapin (Castanea pumila): 5.1-6.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
  • I have come across conflicting reports about Chestnut's tolerance of juglone. Juglone  is a natural plant growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives. If a plant tolerates juglone, than you can consider using that plant as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.
  • Chestnuts seem to prefer locations that have warm to hot summers for best nut production.
  • Chestnut leaves take longer to decompose than many other species.

Propagation: By seed - seed does not last long if it is to remain viable, but can be kept viable for a few months if kept cool and moist… like in an unheated basement or refrigerator drawer. Best sown immediately after harvest in Autmn. Grafted cultivars are also commonly available.

Maintenance: Almost none. More pruning will be needed if coppicing.

Concerns: None

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Free E-book on Seed Saving

I wanted to quickly share a website (well two actually, but they are the same organization really) and a free e-book. This is a great organization whose goal is to "grow and steward rare, diverse and resilient seed varieties and distribute these to other ecologically minded farmers, gardeners and seed savers."

They have produced a free, 22-page Guide to Seed Saving that can be downloaded from their site. It is a great tool to help get you started on saving your seeds.  Check it out!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Fermentation

Who is Sandor Katz? If you wanted to blame one person in the U.S. who brought about a revival in home fermentation, then he is the man. I wrote a review about Sandor Katz’s first book, Wild Fermentation, last year. If you want to know a whole lot more about Katz, his personal life, philosophy, and love of fermented foods, you can read this book. It is a good book with a lot of recipes.

However, The Art of Fermentation, is a great book, and it contains virtually no recipes. Almost everyone is familiar with the old saying, Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. His first book had a lot of fish giving (and to be fair it had a decent dose of teaching), but his latest book is a veritable fishing clinic. And just so we don’t get too lost in the analogy, let me say it clearly: The Art of Fermentation is the most comprehensive book on fermenting foods available today; It teaches the what and why of fermentation so that a person can go out and ferment any food.

The natural question then arises, “Why would I want to ferment food?”

Fermentation has been used throughout the world to preserve foods without refrigeration. I have homemade sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), beer (fermented grains), and melomel (fermented honey and fruit wine) at my house right now. And, to be honest, I also have one failed batch of pickles (fermented cucumbers) in my compost bin right now… I attribute the failure of this batch of pickles to my not following Sandor Katz’s suggestions on how to properly make them. I was trying to make do with what I had on hand, but that is another article I will soon write.

Fermentation has given people around the world the ability to feed themselves in lean times by preserving the bounty of the growing season. However, in many places in the world where electricity and refrigeration are now an underappreciated luxury, fermented foods are still made because they taste so good. Fermentation also can make food more nutritious and can make some foods edible that are inedible in its raw state.

I am a huge fan of fermented and fermenting foods. If you have a general interest in this, then I recommend Wild Fermentation, but if you have a desire to understand, to learn, and to be creative in your own fermentation recipes, then you must read The Art of Fermentation.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Permaculture Plants: Elderberry

Elderberries should be in every Forest Garden
American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Common Name: Elder, Elderberry
Scientific Name: Sambucus species
Family: Adoxaceae (the Elders and Viburnum Family)
Common Species:
  • American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, sometimes named Sambucus nigra subspecies canadensis)
  • Common/European Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • American Red Elder (Sambucus pubens)
  • European Red Elder (Sambucus racemosa)
Elderberry flowers are often valued more than the fruit!
American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
The Elderberry is a large shrub that is best known for its showy flowers (often made into fritters) and small but abundant, edible, dark blue-purple berries. However, it is also a fantastic attractor of beneficial insects and hummingbirds, can be used as a windbreak or living fence, provides food and shelter for wildlife (especially birds), and is a great pioneer species.
The American Elderberry is native to eastern North America from Canada south through to Panama in Central America. The European Elder is common in cooler areas of the European continent. It was used by native peoples in all places for food, drink, and medicine. Many cultivars have been developed but mainly for ornamental purposes and not flower or fruit production.

The Red Elder/Elderberry species are named for their berry color
Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
  • There are between 5 and 30 species of Elder depending on how "species" is defined
  • There are "black-berried", "red-berried", "Australian", and "dwarf" groups of Elder species as well as a few others that don't really fall into these groups
  • The Red Elder/Elderberry species, of which there are many, produce red berries
Primary Uses:
  • Edible fruit – cooked (most common), fresh (some don’t like the taste), dried, or used in preserves/jams/jellies, etc.
  • Edible Flowers – fresh or cooked. Popular when covered in batter and fried into fritters. Can be pickled if picked when unopened. Fresh flowers can be soaked in water to make a refreshing drink.
  • Tea Plant (dried flowers are used)

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food plant, especially birds
  • Nectar source for hummingbirds
  • Shelter plant for small mammals and birds
  • Windbreak species
  • Living Fence species
  • Larger varieties can be coppiced
  • Pioneer Species
  • Fruit and flowers can be used for wine or flavor adjuncts in beer, liquors, and cordials
  • Medicinal Uses. There are many reported, but its use as an antiviral has a lot of scientific support in the medical literature.

Yield: 12-15 lbs (5.5-7 kg) per plant, but often less
Harvesting: Flowers - pick on sunny days when shedding pollen. Fruit - harvest in Late Summer (August-September) when in full color. Many people will either use a berry picker/comb or snip off whole heads and pick off at home.
Storage: Use or process fresh as flowers and fruit do not last long

Larger varieties and species can be used as a Canopy or Sub-Canopy Layer
Common/European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-10
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely, but no good information is available

Plant Type: Small Tree or Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer for small Forest Garden, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Multiple varieties available

Pollination: Requires cross-pollination with at least one other variety/cultivar
Flowering: Late Spring through Summer (May-July)

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-4 years,
Years to Maximum Bearing: 3-6 years
Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but this plant freely suckers. As one plant is starting to decline, a suckering plant can be established to take the original plant’s place in the garden and in production.

The leaves and flower buds of the Elder.
Common/European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
  • American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) - 6-13 feet (1.8-3.5 meters) tall and wide
  • Common/European Elder (Sambucus nigra) - 13-20 feet (4-6 meters) tall and wide
  • Red Elder (Sambucus racemosa) - 10 feet (3 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous with the ability to sucker (send up shoots from underground roots)
Growth Rate: Fast
Elder flowers can be eaten fresh, cooked, or used as flavorings in drinks
Common/European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

Light: Full to partial sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Can grow in wet to dry soils
pH: prefers fairly neutral soil (6.1 - 7.5), but can tolerate more alkaline soils
Propagation: Usually from seed (germination highest with cold stratification, up to 39 weeks). Can be propagated from cuttings of half-ripe wood in Summer or mature wood in Autumn. Can divide suckers in late Autumn and Winter when the plant is dormant, but don't take too late in Winter as Elderberry leafs early.

Minimal, but will need to cut back suckers if not wanted.

Poisonous – Leaves, stems, roots, and immature fruit contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).

Whole sprays/heads, full of fruit, are often easier to harvest all at once.
American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)