Growing Fava Beans

As a fledgling gardener, one thing I have been trying to do each year is to grow something new, so that I can expand my gardening knowledge and broaden my culinary horizons!

This past year I decided to try fava beans.  Why?  Because I was in a natural food market and saw these beautiful, huge, marinated, wonderfully flavored beans.  They were in one of those “help yourself” bars along with marinated and/or pickled olives, mushrooms and peppers.  They were so good!

There wasn’t a sign anywhere saying what kind of a bean they were, but a friendly customer next to me said she thought they were fava beans.  So, I decided I would try growing my own fava beans and find a recipe for this wonderful, flavorful snack!

growing broad beansTurns out I was misinformed.  The marinated beans were not fava beans, but a type of lima bean.  Oh well.  I had already bought the bean seeds and they had germinated by the time I figured this out.  Speaking of the seeds…

I found a wonderful seed company that I just adore!  They are based out of Chico, California and I had the opportunity to visit their store recently.  More about that in another story to come soon.

So, on with the fava beans!

The beans were very quick to sprout and were setting their first true leaves within 10 days!  Of course, I attribute some of this to my homemade kelp fertilizer, with the natural gibberellic acid in it, which is a growth hormone for plants.

I started the beans in an enclosed patio, about 4 weeks before the beginning of spring, because fava beans are much like english peas, they are somewhat of a cool weather crop and would be harvested sometime in May or June.  I had a picture of the seedlings growing in their pots, but alas, my camera got run over by our truck (don’t ask) and I was unable to retrieve all of my pictures.  🙁  But, once I put them in the ground, they started growing…growing broad beans

and growing…

I should have had some type of support for the plants, even though they are a bush type of bean, because some of the stems that were about 2 feet long started to twist and droop as they grew, I guess from their own weight.  A few even broke.  I’m not sure if that is the nature of the plant, or gardener (me) error. 😉

growing broad beansOnce the fava bean plants began to bloom, I was totally in awe!  The blossoms are gorgeous!  The white with beautiful lavender throats really stood out.  To me, they resembled an orchid. Apparently the pollinators thought they were pretty cool, also, because it wasn’t long before small, tiny bean pods developed.  In fact, in the picture on the left, you can see a butterfly (or is that a moth) with it’s head plunged head into the flower!  You can click on the picture for a better view.

Then we had a hail storm!  Shoot!  Nuts!  The hail absolutely destroyed some of my garden plants and heavily damaged others.  Luckily, the fava bean plants seemed to be fairly resilient. Though they were pretty well bruised, the leaves healed and recovered fairly quickly!growing fava beans

Within another month the bean pods were huge.  I mean H U G E! You can see in the picture at the left that the pods are bigger than my fingers!

growing broad beans

Once the outside of the pods started to show the bulge of the beans inside, it was time to harvest. Since I only had four bean plants (which I originally thought would be plenty to experiment with), I decided to dry them in the pod, as it didn’t seem like I was going to get very many actual beans.  I harvested each pod as it appeared to have mature beans inside, let it dry in the pod, and then shucked the beans into a bowl. Oh, by the way, most other people in the world call them Broad Beans!

Okay.

 

Let’s get real here.  The plants grew well.  The flowers were gorgeous.  But this is all the beans I got?

Seriously?

growing fava beans

Then, I went online to see how to prepare the beans.

Um………….

I found this on Dr. Weil’s website:

Cooking time: 60-120 minutes

Liquid per cup of legume: 3 cups

How to cook fava beans: Soak overnight. Drain water. If your fava beans were not already shelled, you should be able to slip the outer skins off after soaking by squeezing the beans between your fingers. Once favas are shelled, fill pot with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lids slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for one to two hours, until tender or desired consistency.

Whaaaaaaaa….?  I have to soak overnight and slip the outer skins off of EACH BEAN! That seems like a pretty time consuming task to me!  These puppies better be worth it!

So, I soaked my meager bowl of fava beans overnight and then tried to “slip” off the skins. Umm… nope!  The skins did not slip off in any way, shape or form.  Then I started wondering if I had skinless beans (could I be so lucky?), and dug with my nail into one of the soaked beans to see.

Skins.

growing and cooking broad beans

Yeah – not very pretty. I guess this is what happens when you soak your fava beans longer than overnight, so that the skins will “slip” off. NOT!

Except mine were so thick they would not slip off.  So, I decided to soak them for a little longer.  Still didn’t work.  I went ahead and gouged each skin off (not very carefully, as I grumbled the entire 1/2 hour it took me to do it), and finally boiled them for almost an hour.

The result?  They pretty much turned to mush!

I guess the extra soaking didn’t do any favors for the texture of the cooked bean, because they all split apart and were almost unrecognizable as beans.  Harruummph!

Were they good?  Well, I guess so.  I like beans, and these tasted like… well… beans!

But, rather than eat mushy beans, I decided to puree them and use them as a dip that is very similar to hummus.  I found this recipe on the Whole Foods website.  It was good!  Not great, but good. If you try this recipe, I would recommend making the hummus at least an hour ahead of time and then let it sit for a while, allowing the flavors to meld.

broad bean hummus

Fava bean hummus. I tried to make it look pretty. . .   really I tried.

My take on all of this?  Well, let’s just say I am not going to grow fava beans this year. They took up waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy too much garden space for such little result.

One bowl of hummus.  😉

And since we didn’t swoon over their flavor and texture, why bother?

Was the experiment worth it?  You bet!  Now I have a better knowledge of what fava (broad) beans look like and taste like, how to grow them and how to prepare them. Who knows… someday I might have a larger garden and want to try growing then again, and  I also have a greater appreciation of those who DO grow them.

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Planning for Canning

One of the wonderful surprises I have had over the last few years pressure canning meat, fish and poultry, has been the convenience of using these foods when preparing breakfast, lunch or dinner.  At first I was nervous using a pressure canner, as we have all heard the stories about how they blew apart from too much pressure during grandma’s days.  I was also frightened that I would kill my family with the deadly botulism malady.

I am glad to report that I just don’t worry about those problems anymore.  I am very careful to follow each recipe from a reputable source exactly as written, I have become more familiar with my pressure canner, and follow every food precaution known with regard to cleanliness, temperature and cross contamination.

Because of this, I have been canning a lot of salmon, chicken and beef.  I bought a kindle book about canning beef called (of course) “I Can Can Beef”, written by Jennifer Shambrook, Ph.D. Her instructions are simple and direct and follow the Ball Canning Book almost exactly.  But the book goes much further into the subject, in that she lists quite a few recipes just for the canned meat.  I was so impressed with this book that I bought her other books, “I Can Can Chicken”, “I Can Can Beans” and “I Can Can Ground Beef”.

Pressure canned beefWhen I found Zaycon, the company from which I buy all my bacon, chicken and ground beef, I found that canning the meat was a very easy and convenient way to prepare what I had purchased.  Once the jars had been processed and the seals confirmed, I had shelf stable protein that did not need refrigeration or freezing!  Living off grid, this is a very important feature, as refrigerator and/or freezer space is oftentimes limited. If you haven’t heard about Zaycon, click on the Zaycon button on my sidebar!  If you order from them, I will receive a small “finder’s fee”, which will not increase your cost in any way.  It’s their way of saying “thank you” to me for spreading the word about their wonderful company.

You can see in the picture below some of the items I canned this past year on my working pantry shelf, which used to be the bottom bunk bed in our travel trailer.  I store the bulk of my canned goods in our cargo container, and go “shopping” there when I need to replenish the working pantry in my trailer.  As we build our new home and live part-time in the trailer, this is where I do most of our cooking.My Canning Pantry

Yes, I know.  As much as I talk about a self-sufficient lifestyle, I do have some store bought items on the shelf, also.  Guilty  😉

However, if anyone can find me a copy-cat recipe for Rice-A-Roni pilaf that actually tastes like the original… Please Share!  We love this as a side dish, but even better love adding the prepared mix to our chicken soup!  I also like making my own pasta, but unfortunately I don’t have enough space in my tiny RV kitchen to make batches of pasta, nor do I have the time while we are busy building our new home.

What I have found is that one pound of browned ground beef fills one pint jar, hence one 10 pound portion of ground beef will fill ten pint jars of processed ground beef, so one order of Zaycon ground beef (each order is 40 pounds) will fill 40 pint jars.  Since we use, on average, two pint jars of ground beef a week, one order will last us about 20 weeks. So, it would follow that if I want to can enough ground beef for a whole year, I would need about 2-1/2 to 3 full orders of ground beef from Zaycon.  Hmmm….  that probably won’t work for me right now.  First – I don’t have enough room in my small RV refrigerator to keep the second and third order of ground beef cold while I process the first batch. Second – My All American pressure canner holds only 19 pint jars at a time, so it would take two full batches in my canner to process almost the ground beef.  Since it takes at least 5 or 6 hours to heat, process and cool down my canner for each batch, it would take two days to get three batches of canning done. Whew! That would be a lot of work! However, I could process 38 pounds in one day – two full batches or one order of Zaycon ground beef – and that would almost get us through about half a year.

The same goes for the chicken.  Zaycon sells their chicken breast in 40 pound lots.  I usually can the chicken breast in chunks either by itself in pint jars, or with onions, celery, carrots and broth for a home-made chicken soup, in quart jars.  The chicken breast can be used in lots of Canned Chickendifferent recipes including stir fry, chicken enchiladas, Pad Thai, etc.  To the chicken soup I add noodles or the aforementioned Rice-A-Roni.  Seriously, if you know of a good copy-cat Rice-A-Roni pilaff recipe – Please let me know and I will be ever so grateful!  Ten pounds of chicken breast, cut into 1 x 1 inch chunks – raw pack – will make about 12 pint jars. When making soup, I don’t pack as much chicken into the quart jars so that there will be enough broth to cook the pasta or rice or other fresh vegetables when I am serving it, so ten pounds of chicken will usually make about 16 quart jars of soup for me.  We go through an average of 1 pint of chunk chicken and 1 quart of the chicken soup per week, so one 40 pound order of chicken breast works out to about 30 pints of chunk chicken and 20 quarts of soup per order.

As spring is quickly approaching I am starting to plan my vegetable garden, with an eye toward canning and/or freezing the produce to last at least one year.  That is my goal right now – one year.  I have read that one should actually have enough for two years, just in case of crop failure, or other disaster, but right now that would be just too overwhelming for me.  This has been quite a challenge for me, and I am still learning what works for me and what doesn’t. The problem is that I have to improve my gardening skills before I can be sure I will have enough food for a year.  😉

Last year I planted Kentucky Wonder beans and they did an amazing job.  Not only did we eat fresh green beans twice a week for a few months – July, August and September – I was also able to preserve 24 pint jars of green beans.  But it wasn’t enough.  I am already down to my last several jars of green beans and we still have at least three months before I can expect to get more from my garden.  So, I will have to plant more beans this year.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder.  Though these beans produced very well, I want more!

How many more?  Well, I figure if I want to have 3 dozen jars of beans, which would give us one jar per week during the non-producing months, I would have to plant half again as many beans as I did last year.  But if I wanted to have 4 dozen jars, I would need twice as many plants.  Therefore, I am going to plant twice as many plants because we really love

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different that hot pack!

green beans.  We eat them plain as a side dish, cold in salads, thrown into stews and buried in casseroles.  In our family, the more the better!  Last year I planted cucumbers among the green beans, as well as the Chinese Red Noodle Beans.  While I love pickles, and the noodle beans were a fun experiment, I am going to use the entire side of the raised bed for green beans this year.

My black beans also did fairly well.  Out of the 9 plants that I had, I got about a quart of dried black beans.  The black beans shared the raised bed with the green beans, cucumbers and noodle beans, but were planted on the opposite side, which seemed to work well.  The black beans were a bush bean and didn’t interfere with the vining green beans.  The book “I Can Can Beef”, explains how you can fill up you canner with simple jars of either plain or chili beans.  Say, for example, you are canning 10 pints of ground beef.  My pressure canner holds 17 pints, so I have room for another 7 pints.  Why not fill those 7 pints with beans, which only takes minutes to do.  You will spend the same amount of energy processing the canner but have seven jars of delicious beans to add to your pantry!  I processed my black beans and got 9 pints of beans.  We need more than that, so I will also double the amount of black bean plants this year. Maybe triple!

These are the black turtle beans I grew last year. These are very tasty, can well, and as a bush bean doesn’t take too much real estate in the garden, but is well worth the effort.

My other garden vegetables I plan to grow and can include potatoes, carrots, beets and chili peppers.  You can see on the picture of my working pantry that I have four small jars of chopped peppers.  These worked out great when making chicken enchiladas, chili beans, meatloaf, etc., but sadly, those didn’t last long at all!

canned chili peppers

My fire roasted diced and canned chili peppers

The small size of the jars was perfect for adding to recipes, however, so I will continue canning peppers in that size, it’s just that I didn’t have enough. We had six Anaheim Chile plants last year.  Along with eating them fresh (mmmmmm… BBQ pepper poppers!) I want to have at least two dozen of these small jars for next year, so I will need to plant at least 12 Anaheim Chili plants this next year.  We also had two Ancho Poblano peppers that didn’t produce very well.  I wanted the Ancho Poblano because they would be great for Chili Relleno, but alas the plants just didn’t do as well as I had hoped.  So this year I will grow only Anaheim Chiles as my hot pepper.

My carrots?  They didn’t do well.  I ended up with little three inch long bunches of carrot flavored fuzzy roots.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I need to improve my carrot growing skills because I want to be able to can carrots also.  Not sure what happened to my potatoes this year, but they also suffered.  Alas, there is always another year!  🙂

These are the cherry tomatoes that I grew last summer. They were oh so good!

And the tomatoes?  I need more tomatoes.  The canning type to make sauces, pastes and chopped tomatoes.  Last year I grew both cherry tomatoes and paste tomatoes.  We ate the cherry tomatoes fresh and I canned the paste tomatoes.  I had two paste tomato plants and that wasn’t near enough to supply my pantry shelf.  This year I am going to grow two cherry tomatoes for fresh eating and probably a dozen paste tomato plants.  I will have to keep some space in my freezer for the tomatoes, because I like to throw them in a bag I have in the freezer and then process the tomatoes into sauce in one large batch, rather than several smaller batches. You can see that process HERE.  I haven’t tried making my own ketchup yet, but if I have enough tomatoes this year, making ketchup will be one of my new experiments.

It will be interesting to see how these changes in my garden will effect my canning this year.  Until we are able to move into our new home, canning will have to continue being done on my outdoor propane burner.  This presents a challenge, sometimes, because I have to plan my canning days around windy days, which can effect the flame of the outdoor burner, and therefore the canning process.

So, here’s to a new season of gardening, harvesting, canning and learning.  I hope my pantry will be still overflowing at this time next year.

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I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

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My New Elderberry Plants

Elderberry syrup, Elderflower pancakes, Elderberry wine…

Do I sound like Forrest Gump – “fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp fricassee…”?

A couple of years ago Ray and I attended a class on making medicinal tinctures; one of them being an elderberry syrup/tonic.  Since then, I have been wanting to have my own Elderberry plants. Elderberries have become very popular lately as they are one of those “superfoods” that contain anti-oxidants, flavinoids, vitamins and minerals.  And they taste good, too! The berries can be purchased online, but they can be a bit pricey!

Elderberries

This is one of our local “native” elderberry plants. There are quite a few of these bushes along the road we travel to get to our favorite fishing lake. It is just loaded with elderberries!

After learning all about elderberries and where they grow, we discovered that native elderberries grow all around us!  In fact, last year snapped off a sprig of a native bush and tried to get it to root.  It didn’t.  I think I got the sprig at the wrong time of year.  🙁

Since we really wanted some of our own Elderberry bushes and my expertise at rooting woody stemmed plants is obviously lacking, I purchased some Elderberry plants online from Stark Bros. Nursery.  We bought two varieties – York and Nova – for better cross pollination. The plants themselves were cheaper to buy than a couple of pounds of dried elderberries purchased online, so this was one of those “no brainer” purchases!  I still want to try getting a sprig of the local native elderberries to root, but I need to do some more research on how to do this before I try again.

When the box arrived from Stark Bros., I was quite impressed with the size of my new plants.  The stalks were ¾ to an inch wide at the base!  Unfortunately, it was evident that the delivery service may have been just a bit rough with the package, as several new, tender shoots had broken off the main plant.

Hmmm…  I thought.  What if I stick these new shoots in soil?  Since I had some pots and potting mix on hand, I stuck the shoots into the moist soil and waited.

It didn’t take long!  Two of the three shoots rooted, so hallaleuja, I now have four plants!  I still want some of the wild ones, though.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

growing elderberries

These elderberry plants are just gorgeous when they bloom!

We planted the Elderberries where they get strong morning sun but dappled shade in the afternoon, and all four of them grew very well.  The two mother plants soon had beautiful white blossoms.  The blossoms had a faint sweet smell and attracted quite a few different pollinators.

growing elderberry plants

You can see that the beautiful white blossoms fall off as the berries start to develop.

The berries came soon after.  I had about six fairly large clumps of berries on each plant and by September the berries got heavy enough that the plant stems started drooping.  Because of that, and because of the amount of deer mice, rabbits, wood rats, moles, voles and bears (oh my) we have on our property, I figured I had better pick the berries as soon as they looked ripe, which meant that I picked only two or three berry clusters at a time.

When I saw that my berries were ripening, I figured I had better start doing some research to help decide what I will do with them. First I found this post about making Elderberry Tincture, which is what made me want the elderberry plants in the first place, and this post on how to make Elderberry Wine, and this recipe making Elderberry Syrup!

What did I do with the berries?

Since I didn’t have a whole lot of them, (they are very young plants) I decided to dehydrate most of them to use at a later date.  It took only half a day to dehydrate the first and second batches of elderberries.

elderberry dehydrating

Dehydrating my first batch of elderberries. It doesn’t take long!

It was funny how much the berries shrank!  Holy cow, I started out with about 2 cups of berries and ended up with less than one half cup!  But, I am sure when they are reconstituted, they will taste just as lovely.  Or perhaps I will just include them in a granola bar recipe I’ve been wanting to try.  The seeds inside the berries make them crunchy, which is great!

Maybe I will throw a handful of the dehydrated berries into yogurt! Hmmm… elderberry ice cream?

I am waiting for the day we will have enough elderberries to make a batch of elderberry wine, but of course, I will need a lot more elderberries to do that.  (Sigh)

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn't look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn’t look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

Today I harvested the last few bunches of elderberries and made a small coffee cake.  Of course, I cooked it in my Sun Oven!

elderberry coffeecake

Elderberry coffee cake, cooking in my Sun Oven! With some of our own bee’s honey slathered on top, it was absolutely delicious!

It was delicious.  The berries are reminiscent of blueberries, but the small seeds inside give just a little bit of crunch!  It’s wonderful!

elderberry drying

Haha – this is my little pint jar of dehydrated elderberries! Who knew they would shrink up so small!

So, that was the extent of our elderberry harvest this year.  Since I didn’t get much in terms of dehydrated berries, I will probably hoard them over the winter.  Now I understand why the dehydrated berries cost so much!

However, with my four plants and with hopes of being able to root some native elderberry plants, I am sure to have an adequate amount of elderberries in the future!

Do you grow elderberries? Do you cook with elderberries?  Do you have a favorite recipe for a medicinal tonic using elderberries?  I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

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