Wild plums and elderberries grow along the fence rows and roadsides in southeast Nebraska. We researched the problems associated with gathering what grows wild, varieties, how to take care of plants, yields and have discovered some markets available.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESUTLS
Our farm includes a small pasture and an adjacent field, both containing wet spots. We planted in those areas for our project. In areas with a grass cover, we used Round-up to prepare planting spots. Areas which had previously been cultivated, we planted a pasture cover-mix for weed control. We planted wild cuttings from local Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa and Johns and Adams II (two named varieties from nurseries), totaling about 250 plants. Johns variety was chosen mainly because its harvest time occurs before the Adams II. Adams II was chosen for its high yield. We experimented with propagating dormant cuttings in sand beds, and have seeds to plant. State forestry projects are a source of wild rooted elderberries, and named varieties can be purchased from some nurseries bare root for approximately $2.50 each. Plants in pots are more expensive.
We took approximately 500 dormant cuttings from the wild and placed them in sand beds in March. The sand beds consisted of coarse sand and peat moss. The cuttings were treated with rooting hormone. The beds were covered with lattice for shading, and were watered and tended during the summer. The cuttings were transplanted to buckets containing potting soil in August to promote stronger root growth. In late September the cuttings were then transplanted to the field. This technique worked well for wild cuttings. Those which didn’t root might already have been dead due to winter kill. We anticipated using sand beds for rooting selected cuttings.
In the time we have watched wild elderberries in this county, they always make fruit, but yields do vary from year to year. Techniques to improve yield include watering, fertilizing, pruning old growth, and weed and grasshopper control. SaferSoap and dormant oil may be used for disease and insect control. Named varieties produce larger yields.
A large expense involved in raising elderberries is the harvest. To realize a larger profit it makes sense to increase the yield as much as possible. One adult can pick approximately 21 pounds of wild elderberries an hour in a roadside patch. We estimate the yield of roadside patch to be about 1/3 of the yield that selected varieties (Johns, Adams II, etc.) will produce, without significantly increasing harvest hours.
Yields , Projected Gross Income Per Acre**
Johns ,19.4 lbs/plant* , $7,517.50
Adams II ,17.1 lbs/plant*, $6,626.25
Wild ,6 lbs/plant-estimated ,$2,325.00
*Yields for Johns and Adams II are published from Penn. Experiment Station
**Income based on 775 plants per acre and $.50/lb
Native plums in Nebraska, Prunus americana, are available from the Kansas and Nebraska forestry programs. 50 plants cost $25.75. In Kansas, the sandhill plum, Prunus augustifolia, is thought to be more desirable. No higher yielding or disease free selections of either variety are available at this time.
We planted 50 sandhill plums to determine if that variety will produce this far north. They aren’t bearing yet, so results are not in.
Methods of planting are being researched in Kansas. Planting between strips of alfalfa is being tired. No information on “trellis system” planting from the east coast has become available. Plums need to be pruned, so that a thicket does not form. Plums bloom early and are often frozen, resulting in no fruiting. Further research on the frequency of late frosts here may yield information on reliability of harvests. Brenda Alcott-Reid, in her SARE report on sandhill plum in Kansas, states that potential gross return of sandhill plum hedgerow at $.50-$.60/lb is $2400 per acre per year, net profit $1520.
Elderberries are used in wine, tea, jellies and jams, as colorants, and in the medical field. The European elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is being used in syrup form to fight the flu. We have ordered this variety for next spring. The plum market is wine, jellies and jams, and syrups.
An important part of this project was the possibility of seasonal employment for youth. We envisioned that some youth groups would be interested in harvesting the wild fruits from their farms, or their neighbor’s farms. It is vital to know that the fruits have not received herbicide drift. However, 4-H groups have disbanded by harvest time, mid-August to mid-September. School organizations are not yet formed. Coordination of large youth groups and their volunteer leaders was difficult. We believe that small groups or individual youths could realize an income from this project.
In the future, gathering to a central location, handling facilities, cooling and shipping would need to be addressed. A community project might eventually include harvests from cultivated sites and privately owned wild patches.
We hosted a grant meeting in Dawson on November 23, 1998. The purpose of this meeting was to inform people of the opportunity to realize an income from waste or marginal ground.