Season Begins: Flowers, Vermiculture, HB 1799, Elderflower Cordial

by Elisabeth Marshall

 This cold, wet spring has our nerves a bit frazzled. We have starts waiting in our greenhouse to go in the ground, and, finally, in early May, most of them will make it. We’ve already planted all the cool season starts and seeds and those are being followed with second and third rounds, but we felt we had to hold back planting the more tender flower starts until the weather settled. 

Our floral business has done very well in spite of the cold, thanks to tulips, daffodils, anemones and lots of perennial bouquet filler, including viburnum, Spanish bluebells, magnolias, thimbleberry, Oso berry, hazel, hops, hellebore and hardy geraniums. Now ranunculus are bursting forth, soon to be followed by our wonderful herbaceous and Itoh hybrid peonies, which start in late May and continue through all of June. Last month you heard about our overwintered kale, which is being rapidly edged out by fresh spring greens, herbs, onions, turnips, radishes, peas, early potatoes … and the season begins anew. 

Forty Years Ago
Forty years ago, this place was a 14-acre field of rough, overgrazed pasture and berry brambles with spindly alders pushing up thick as grass. There was a very old orchard which we have largely replaced. Now, those new trees are large and mature. We have made a farm and garden here mostly from natives allowed to grow without being grazed and with plants grown from seed, cuttings and divisions. We’ve transplanted firs and hemlocks while they were tiny with thready roots pulled from crevasses in rock where they stubbornly sprouted. We reckoned they would burgeon once set in the open, in good ground. And they did — every single one. 

My husband, Mark, has planted and thinned the woods — getting rid of huge amounts of dead wood and slash. Now, the filtered light and expanded space allows the smaller trees to thrive in harmony with the big ones. Seeing trees grow to maturity is a privilege and an honor, a reminder of our relatively short lives in this place we hope to leave better, maybe even a bit healed. 

Hardiness Zones
Over the years, I have learned that our USDA Hardiness Zone 8B is not very accurate for our specific site. We are sometimes in Zone 5. If I grow things that are hardy only to Zone 8, I will lose them — maybe not this winter or next, but eventually, they will be killed by the frigid northeast winds that sweep down out of Alberta as if aimed at our farm straight as an arrow. My next-door neighbor, just a few acres away, is tucked in behind a rise with southern exposure, screened by woods, and her garden is so much cozier than mine. With her green thumb and her favorable site, I think she could grow bananas, if she tried. 

We compensate for travails with thrift where we can. We compost garden waste and feed food waste and spent and fermented brewery mash to our chickens. No garbage disposal needed. All organic material is used to feed and nourish something else. We graze our chickens across our orchards and open spaces with two chicken tractors so their manure is used directly in place and not added to our compost. We’ve had chickens for almost as long as we’ve been here, and tractoring them is the best method we’ve used yet. The chickens are happy, clean, and healthy and our orchards are thriving with the chickens’ rotating presence. 

We have undertaken vermiculture (the cultivation of annelid worms, such as earthworms or bloodworms, especially for use in composting) and are now producing a good amount of vermicompost after less than six months. 

We practice no-till farming, spreading our manure-free compost on vegetable and flower beds, which produces rich, well-balanced soil that supports all the abundance of our farm. 

Bill to Reduce Food, Yard Waste
So we felt encouraged by Washington Governor Jay Inslee signing HB 1799 into law this March — a bill to reduce food and yard waste in landfills in Washington. We now join several other states with laws or regulations that require diversion of food waste from disposal in landfills: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. 

The law establishes a goal of 75 percent reduction in the amount of organic materials disposed of in landfills by 2030, and a separate goal that at least 20 percent of the volume of edible food disposed of be recovered for human consumption by 2025 — each of those measures based on 2015 levels of waste. It does not ban disposal of food and yard waste in landfills, but does require the state’s jurisdictions to offer collection services and for businesses to arrange for organics collection. The definition of organic materials includes manure, yard waste, food waste, food processing waste, wood waste, and garden waste.

HB 1799’s Attributes
This bill will improve management of organic materials, putting what used to be waste to productive use and will reduce methane emissions from landfills. The law also amends the state’s Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to make it easier for grocers, restaurants and food manufacturers to donate excess food to food rescue groups. The Washington state Department of Ecology will create a new Center for Sustainable Food Management to help match businesses and organizations to participants who can deliver surplus food to residents in need, manage organic material flows, and track progress. 

Other provisions in the new law include: 

 A new compost reimbursement program for Washington farmers for purchase of compost and compost-spreading equipment. 

 Requires that by January 1, 2023, cities and counties with populations greater than 25,000 adopt ordinances addressing procurement of compost. 

 Amends Washington state’s existing Product Degradability Labeling Requirements standards to require compostable products to use green, brown or beige labeling, color striping or other marks that help differentiate compostable items from non-compostable materials. 

 Requires county and city develop regulations to allow for the siting of organic materials’ management facilities in priority areas to support local solid waste plans and achieve state organic materials’ management goals. 

Many companies and cities and counties already divert these organics, says Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington. “This new law is a critical step to ensure that we divert more of the organic material to composting, anaerobic digestion, vermiculture and new innovative technologies. As an agricultural state, getting more high quality compost to our farmers is great for both soil health and carbon sequestration.” 

I’m certainly for that.

Meanwhile, back on Full Bloom, blossoms are forming on my black elderberry bushes. I “acquired” the parent plant from a drainage ditch out towards Lynden one day about 25 years ago. Just walked up to that sucker and took a cutting. After starting that cutting and taking cuttings from the bush it produced, I now have several elderflower bushes in various stages of growth and I make elderflower cordial every year. Black elderflowers are pink and white when young and the plant’s foliage is very dark reddish green, a big, beautiful bush. They are the ne plus ultra of elderflowers.   

Elderflower Cordial Recipe

Elderflower Cordial
photo: Olivia Marshall

This cordial is easy to make if you have fresh elderflowers on hand. I found it in Darina Allen’s book “Forgotten Skills of Cooking,” which is an excellent book. You may be familiar with her Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork (
The cordial is delicious stirred into fresh fruit, floated on prosecco or white wine, mixed into iced tea, soaked into cake or used as a topping over ice cream. It is non-alcoholic. Yields 4.5 cups. Recipe can be doubled.

10 elderflower heads
2 ½ cups water
4 cups sugar
1 ¾ ounces citric acid
1 lemon, sliced ⅜” thick

You will need 10 young, pink (just opening) elderflower heads for this recipe. Once you have those, pull the flowers off the heads, trying to avoid pulling too much of the stem with it, and place them in a bowl.

Warning: The leaves, stems and unripe berries of elderberry bushes contain toxins so that is why you remove all but the flowers, buds, and small stems.

In a saucepan that can comfortably hold 4.5 cups of fluid, mix water and sugar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the sugar-plus-water mixture from heat and add the sliced lemons and elderflowers. Stir in the citric acid.

Now we wait. Cover the pan and let sit at least 4 hours, but ideally overnight for more intense elderflower flavor.

Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and then bottle. Don’t throw out the lemons! Instead, put them in a plastic bag and into the freezer. When you make a drink with your cordial, use these beautiful slices of lemon to float on top.

You’ll need to keep the cordial refrigerated. It’s best fresh, but I’ve had mine for a year and it’s still very good. I always double the recipe.


Elisabeth Marshall and her family have lived in Whatcom County for 40 years. They grow fruit, vegetables, flowers, eggs, sea salt, and peonies on their island Full Bloom Farm. They sell their goods at their farm stand, which is open from April through December and at the Lummi Island Farmers Market.

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