In my last post, I described how I got started with this wine making craziness. Now, after all of my careful preparation, I discovered that I would not have nearly enough elderberries for a five gallon batch of wine. Instead of 30 pounds from my bushes, I will only get 5 or 6 pounds and it will require 3 1/2 to 5 pounds of berries per gallon. I need to find a LOT of elderberries. For those who are not familiar with elderberries, they are about the size of a BB. I need millions and billions of them, well, thousands at least.
So, I set out on a search for elderberry bushes. These bushes grow wild in open areas along the edges of woods and along fence lines. They are everywhere; I should have no problem finding another 15 pounds, right? Wrong! After searching a large wild area near my home I found a couple of bushes but the clusters of berries were even sparser than mine. Some clusters had only five or six berries left. Time to go back to Google to see why there are so few berries.
It turns out that elderberries primarily spread through their roots, the seeds in the berries count for just a small portion of new growth. The bushes don’t need to produce the massive number of berries they would get if all of the blossoms developed into berries. So, if the fertility of the soil is a little low or the sunlight is a little less than ideal, they compensate by dropping the berries to a number they can maintain. They also have shallow root systems and they don’t compete well with weeds. Most wild bushes, it seems, produce big showy blossom clusters but just a few berries.
So now I focused my search on open areas where the bushes would get a lot of sun. However, we were well into the ripening season and lots of birds just love elderberries. So, the bushes were big and healthy but the berry clusters were heavily picked over with some clusters completely bare. But the birds took the easy pickings and left the hidden clusters alone. With some searching and some fighting with nettles, I filled my collecting bag and headed home smiling with satisfaction.
I guessed that I had about 6 pounds of berries from my bushes already and I thought my bag full of beautiful dark berries would finish it off. There had to be at least 15 pounds of berries there. Unfortunately, I developed my weight guessing skills as a fisherman. After removing all of the stems I weighed my treasured berries and found I had collected only about five pounds on that trip and the berries from my bushes came to just 2 pounds. I made another trip to the best area with my daughter. That made it a good day even if we didn’t find any berries. But we did find another 2 pounds. But even with that, I had only half the berries that I needed!
Back to Google! I didn’t want to expand my search for elderberry bushes so I started searching for alternatives. It seems that the wild grape that grows everywhere in the north country can make a pretty good wine when mixed with elderberries. I already had 9 pounds of elderberries so I could pick 10 or 12 pounds of grapes and make elderberry/grape wine. I had wild grape vines growing at home so I thought I could just pick them and start my wine.
I never really looked closely at the wild grapes before but now I saw that the clusters are small – about 10 to 20 grapes in a cluster and the grapes are small. I picked every grape I could find and they weighed in at just over six pounds including the stems and I am guessing the stems are a third of the weight. I am still short by at least another 7 or 8 pounds. But the grapes were easy to find in the wooded areas and I quickly picked another 8 1/2 pounds.
I now have enough fruit to start making wine. I can see it now, sitting on my deck with some cheese and crackers and a nice glass of elderberry/grape wine, mmmmm.
Tomorrow – start the winemaking