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Elderberry Operation Thrives Thanks To Aquaponics
Brent Madding in Webbers Falls, Okla., is doing a booming business in elderberries, thanks in part to using “aquaponics” to raise plants. He sells plant stock to home gardeners and commercial growers and also sells elderberry fruit, teas and skin care products locally and through his online business.
  “My oldest son had built an aquaponics system to eat healthier, and his health completely changed for the better. That intrigued me,” Madding says. “I own 120 acres and was within hours of starting a blueberry operation when a friend said I should look into elderberries.”
  The tart fruit has 3 1/2 times the antioxidant level of blueberries and twice as much Vitamin C as oranges. As a bonus, the top-producing elderberry cultivars are native to Eastern Oklahoma, where Madding lives. Though Madding didn’t even know what an elderberry looked like before doing his research, he decided to jump into growing them in 2011 with his wife, Valerie.
  When the 2,000 “plants” that he ordered turned out to be cuttings that didn’t survive a first-year drought, Madding recognized there was an opportunity to start an elderberry nursery.
  With his 1,700 sq. ft. flood-and-drain aquaponics system, cuttings are rooted, leafed out and ready to plant in 30 days. The wicking system raises and lowers water (fortified with nutrients from fish) every 12 min. in a gravel media that provides enough water for the roots to develop and grow without rotting.
  The young plants are potted and moved to a 3,000-sq. ft. high tunnel to grow and sell to customers.
  “Potted plants will produce fruit the first year. On the other hand, it takes 2 to 3 years for cuttings to produce, and you need good irrigation,” Madding explains.
  Besides the nursery, he cultivates 11 elderberry varieties totaling 7,000 shrubs that he grows for cutting propagation and to harvest fruit for the other products he sells. Everything is grown using sustainable, organic practices.
  Harvest begins in May when he picks some of the flowers for tea and skin care products.
  “Our tea is the most popular. Customers are aware of the nutritional benefits,” Madding says. Tea blends include medicinal herbs also grown in the aquaponics system.
  The skin care line of oils and Elderflower Skin Polish and Skin Serum are the result of Madding’s own experience.
  “We worked on teas the first year and I harvested and processed for two weeks,” Madding explains. “I looked at my hands and they were baby soft with no torn cuticles. I found out elder flowers were historically used for skin care.”
  Fruit harvest runs from late July through September or longer. Handpicked berries are vacuum-sealed and frozen, and sell out quickly.
  Teas and skin care products can be purchased year-round through the website, and 1-gal. planted pots can be ordered. Madding sells eight varieties with various traits according to customers’ needs.
  “They may want a healthier berry with higher antioxidants or they may want sweeter berries with more sugar for jelly or wine,” he says. “A lot of people get them for ornamental purposes. They’re excellent wildlife habitat for NRCS or buffers. It’s an ideal crop for small acreages, 3 to 5 acres. We’re looking for new growers to supplement our harvest of berries.”
  For people interested in the operation, Madding does tours by appointment from March to June and again September to November. Check out the website for more information about products.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, 360 Farms, 21838 S. 115th St. E., Porum, Okla. 74455 (ph 918 464-2505; www.360okfarms.com; Facebook: 360 Farms; brent@360okfarms.com).

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2017 - Volume #41, Issue #1