Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Growing and Marketing Elderberries

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant – Terry Durham, Hartsburg, MO

Objective: We are trying to improve the native selection of elderberries at Elderberry Life Farm in Hartsburg, MO, where we’ve been growing elderberries for three years. In fact, at 23 acres, we have the largest elderberry farm in the United States.

Results: We choose selections of elderberries that grow in the Midwest and put them into trials to see which grow best in our area. In the spring we start with 8,000 elderberry plants in a greenhouse where we keep the humidity up. It takes six to eight weeks for plants to root and send up shoots. Once started, we move them to a 50-acre field that is drip-irrigated.

We lay a plastic mulch layer, and then transplant the elderberries mechanically. We can plant about 1,000 an hour, which is about an acre an hour. We plant them 4 feet apart on 12-foot centers.

We put six different native grasses between each row of elderberries, and use the grass clippings as mulch. Every fifth row we plant a different variety of elderberries for diversity, and every 10th row we plant a habitat row of pecans, wild plums, black raspberries, blackberries, or hazelnuts. In the end, we have a permaculture system that is made up of all regional native plants. We expect to get up to 12,000 pounds to the acre on the varieties wildwood and Bob Gordon (the University of Missouri’s new selections), after the fifth year of establishment.

Around Aug. 15 the first varieties of elderberries are ready to pick, which we do by hand. We then have continuous harvest through the season. We process the elderberries for jellies and juice. We retail the juice for $12 per 11-ounce bottle. Mostly we wholesale – we get $100 wholesale per case. One health food store we work with will sell about $20,000 worth of our elderberry juice this year. Currently we’re trying to get more growers to grow elderberries, form a juice collective to process the juice as a group, market it together under one brand name, and sell it wholesale.

We cut the elderberries to the ground after harvest to keep them contained enough and organized so eventually we will be able to develop and use a mechanical harvester. For more information, see http://www.riverhillsharvest.com/.

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