The informal association of Backyard Fruit Growers (BYFG) began in 1990 as an exchange of information for amateurs and others in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who wish to produce excellent fruit for the family and to respect the backyard environment. Members get together four times a year at seasonal meetings (Winter Workshops, Spring Grafting, Summer Orchard Tour, Fall Fruit Tasting) to share ideas and fellowship. A range of people from all walks of life, from all over southeastern PA come to share knowledge, stories and learn together. The following is a report back on the 2020 winter meeting and workshop series. 

BYFG Winter Meeting 1/18/20: Monticello and Mycorrhizae

January’s winter meeting started with a report back from Tim Elkner, PSU Extension Educator, on the spotted lantern fly and its status, how far it has spread, and possible solutions for management.  He tells us the study was done from March 2019-January 2020 and there was no new chemistry to control them. They can fly up to 7 miles and can feed from 60 different species including grapes and stone fruits such as plums and peaches. 

This was followed with topics including Thomas Jefferson’s legacy at Monticello and the biology of how trees grow. Pat Brodowski gave the presentation on Jefferson’s mountain-top plantation Monticello where she is the specialty gardener. She also is a graduate of Cornell University and completed a master thesis on Jefferson’s cultivation of salad greens and herbs. Pat explained the influences on why Jefferson picked Monticello ranging from the warm climate to how he wanted to create a model of what can be grown in Virginia while also providing a site that would impress visitors. 

He originally started with 5,000 acres of land but cultivated 14 acres, with operations of Monticello depending primarily on black slaves. In 1796 there were 110 Africans enslaved on the plantation. Here’s a link to the families that lived there.  These families consisted of many skills like field hands, artisans, and domestic workers. With the help of his enslaved populations he cultivated over 250 varieties ranging from gooseberries, currants, figs, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, pears, apricots and pawpaws. She also gave links to some great websites like and which POP readers may find useful.

File:Monticello vegetable garden.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Monticello features a vegetable garden and orchard focusing on historic plants. (Source:

Next up was Jeff Jabco who is the director of the Scott Arboretum  at Swarthmore College. He gave a presentation on tree growth cycles, breaking down the different parts of a tree from the inside out. Jeff touched on how trees process light, make their own food, survive during dormancy, and described their root structure and the plant hormones that makes the whole process possible. A key point of his presentation was the soil component, most importantly mycorrhizal fungi “fungus roots”. This is root-inhabiting fungi that forms and symbiotic relationships with roots of a plant. It grows inside the plant’s roots, or on the surfaces of the roots.

An illustration of the intimate relationship between plants and endomycorrhizael fungi, whose networks actually extend between plant cells to deliver essential nutrients, water, etc. (Source: )

Mycorrhizae are incredibly important to the success of many species of plants and trees, forming a mutually beneficial relationship with the plant system on which it has formed. They colonize fine absorbing roots of plants to obtain their food, while also helping plants by increasing the root absorption area. The fungi helps increase surface area, allowing the plant to absorb water and nutrients in the soil. There are two predominant types of mycorrhizae: ectomycorrhizae (outside the root), and endomycorrhizae (inside the roots).

Endomycorrhizae forms internal structures inside roots cells, can be found on a variety of plants: hardwoods, fruits, vegetables, annuals, herbaceous plants, and grasses. Its functions include increasing uptake of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, nitrogen, drought stress and increased resistance to insects, foliar diseases, root-rotting pathogens. 

BYFG Winter Workshops 2/15/20: Pawpaws and Brambles

At the Winter Workshop event, presentations included starting an orchard, a lecture on pawpaws, mushroom cultivation, food conservation, bramble production and pruning workshop. I attended the brambles workshop by Kathy Demchak and pawpaw lecture by Ted Weeden.

Ted’s presentation was called “Pawpaws: America’s Forgotten Fruit” and he joined the BYFG in 1999. He got interested in Pawpaws when he did a tour of wild pawpaws in 2000 and he began experimenting and successfully did hand pollination in 2006-2008. He led his first pawpaw tour on his two acres in 2010, where he has 16 cultivars of Pawpaws. 

POP has planted paw paws at many community orchard sites and they have proved reliable producers in Philadelphia Their close relation to tropical species has made them especially popular with some immigrant communities. (Source: POP)

He opened up by telling us the pawpaw species is very adaptable and survived the ice age. The indigenous populations called it Umbi. Pawpaws are the most northern relative of many tropical species. They like moist conditions and so typically can be found growing along streams or ponds. Because it can tolerate a fair amount of shade, pawpaws can be planted under larger mature trees, although full sun is best for fruit production. Pawpaws do need a cold period for dormancy and the cold storage for the seeds is 90 days to 2 years. He talked about his own successes with the fruit and how he grew fruit that weighed up to 600 grams.

Pawpaws send down a large taproot when planted and can grow up to 22” in the first year. Pawpaws are pollinated by native carrion beetles and carrion flies, attracted to its off-scented flowers. Pawpaws are considered superfruits and have 50 known toxins which are good in moderation. Pawpaws are high in vitamin C, essential amino acids, magnesium and iron. The fruit has high potassium levels, meaning those with kidney problems should not have too many servings. A 3.5-ounce serving of pawpaws has similar calories and fat as a banana — about 80 calories, more than a gram each of protein and fat, 18 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber.  

Deer don’t eat the leaves and young deer mistakenly do from time to time and causes them to get an upset stomach. Pawpaws are also hosts to the Zebra tail butterfly and the larva who eat only the leaves. One tree can last up to 50 years while the root system lasts up to 200 years. 

Nutrient requirement for the plant is trace elements found in the soil. The fruit contains 7 different esters which help determine the taste of the fruits. He also mentioned the plant has anti-cancer components and research has been done on this throughout the years but there seems to be conflicting studies.

Inside a pawpaw. The custard like texture resembles a mango. (Source:

More info on Pawpaws:

POP Plant Spotlight: PawPaw

POP Paw Paw Info Sheet

Kathy Demchak, a Penn State small fruit expert, led the presentation on successful bramble production. Brambles are raspberries, blackberries, or hybrids of the two; there are summer fruiters (floricanes) and fall fruiters (primocane) aka everbearers. Primocanes produces fruit at its tips one year and then the following year it resumes fruiting below the previous year fruit. Brambles should produce up to 7-10 years as long as the site has full sun and access to water.

She touched on spacing, fertility, diseases and varieties. Kathy said blackberry rows should be 10’ apart and between 2’-5’ within the row depending on variety. The blackberry cultivars can be thorny or thornless but the two best varieties for flavor and production were Prime-Ark and Black Magic.  The red and black raspberry varieties she mentioned were Nova, Polka, Josphine, Anne, and Jewel. 

POP hopes to bring Kathy to Philly to share her knowledge of small fruit production and we are working on a future blog post on pest and disease challenges of brambles.  

More info on brambles: 

POP Blackberry Info Sheet

POP Pruning Guide for Brambles, Bushes, and Vines

Information on upcoming workshops is posted on the BYFG website. If you live within driving distance of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and if you would like to participate in any of the BYFG seasonal events, subscribe to the seasonal newsletter to receive schedules and directions. To subscribe to the seasonal newsletter, print out this online copy of the Backyard Fruit Growers brochure, and send $15 for 2 years membership and snailmail to BYFG c/o Nils Peterson, 6666 Van Winkle Drive, Falls Church, VA 22044.  

This blog post written by POP Orchard Director Alkebu-Lan Marcus.

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