Puckery, Perfect, or Preserved: Exploring Persimmons Fresh & Dried – MS/HS Lesson (PDF Download)

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, RecipesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
How-to Hoshigaki guide available through POP’s resource and curriculum pages. Requires peeling, patience, and frequent massages!

It is no wonder that persimmon’s Latin genus name “Diospyros” translates as “food of the gods” for the fruit’s divine, sweet flavor. The fall-ripening fruit of persimmon trees are rich and jammy and its honeyed flavor can be exquisitely sweet on the palette when given the proper ripening time on or off the tree — and especially after a quick flash of frost. But variety or hasty harvester beware, for unripe persimmon fruit is also known for its astringency, inciting an unpleasant pucker on the palette.  This sensation is due the presence of tannins — a class of plant-protective phenolic compounds appearing in foods like tea, rhubarb, coffee, and chocolate — that bind to the proteins in saliva creating a tense, drying mouthfeel.  For this reason, reviews of the fruit from the unaware can be somewhat mixed! 

Still, persimmons are one of POP’s favorite fruits to plant in our community orchards — especially school orchards — due to their hardiness, resilience against pest & disease (of which there are very few!), and their ability to provide a late-fall harvest, which is a plus once the apple season wraps up and the summer’s berries and stone fruits are but a mere, sunny memory.  Persimmons rate as one of the easiest to grow fruit in our climate and when properly harvested, they are truly delicious! 

(Read more about Asian persimmons and the native American persimmon here).  

Richard Allen Preparatory sixth-graders watch footage of persimmon processing in Japan. Video linked in the downloadable lesson plan.

So — who better to test the ‘simmons with than two groups of incredibly talented, sometimes-adventurous, sometimes-hesitant Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School middle-schoolers, who’ve been working hard all year-long in designing and expanding their school garden, orchard, and palettes along with Jenny Dunker of Greener Partners?

Greener Partners’ Jenny Dunker and POP’s Education Director Alyssa Schimmel scope the fruit set on the school’s persimmon tree during the early fall.

We piloted this persimmon lesson (PDF download here) with 6th and 8th graders at the school, where they have a huge, healthy ‘Nikita’s Gift’ persimmon tree that was loaded with fruit in the summer. Most of the fruit had been harvested prior to our lesson (hopefully by community members — not squirrels!) but we called in backup, picking up flats of Asian persimmons for $6-8 from an Asian grocery store, and harvesting the native American persimmon from the grounds of the Woodlands that were shaken down from the trees’ tall branches during a community gleaning event.

Students begin the process by delicately peeling the persimmons’ outer skin.

We began with a taste test of the fruit and a brainstorm of what we might make with it to help extend the harvest, then read about the trees’ growth, care, and nutritional facts on this POP tree PDF info-sheet here, before watching two videos on caring for persimmons and learning to cure them using the Japanese traditional stringing-and-massaging mode of drying called hoshigaki (PDF how-to handout here).

Hoshigaki is a cultural delicacy in Japan, where it is frequently used to make the astringent variety of persimmons, Hachiya, more palatable. After peeling the outer skin and stringing them by the stem to hang in the sun with proper airflow and regular massages every 4-5 days to encourage the moisture and sugar to the surface to bloom (it’s often called the kobe beef of dried fruit!), the fresh, still-firm fruit is transformed in a few weeks into an intensely-flavored, still-tender dried delight that is sugar-blushed, rolled, and stored for up to a month in the fridge, or two months in the freezer.

Repair the World’s Megan Brookens and Jenny Dunker string the fruit to clothing hangers to dry.

Unfortunately, the Hachiya variety wasn’t available at the market — the non-astringent Fuyus being preferred for fresh eating — so we tried with what we had and can report back on this blog and by our social media channels with the results! Stay tuned! Because the Hachiya variety has more protective tannins, it’s said they are ideal for this method of drying, whereas the Fuyus which are higher in sugar can draw bugs and possibly develop mold, if too moist. In that case, the fruit after peeling can be flash-boiled for 10 seconds or sprayed with alcohol that can help sanitize the surface.

NOTE: Discard any hoshigaki that form greenish mold due to excessive moisture.  DO NOT CONSUME!  Again, the white bloom that forms naturally through this process is just crystallized sugars and safe to eat.

So how did the persimmons fare among Richard Allen’s reviewers? The majority of students really enjoyed them-– noting that the tomato-like fruit had buttery, spicy, squashy, and honey-flavors they thought might be delicious in cereal bars, fruit leathers, or breakfast cereal.

Two weeks later, the persimmon fruits are beginning to collapse and dry. Here, the students massage the fruit to break up the still-soft internal fruit flesh.

Educators can consider a range of follow-up activities to complement the lesson including in-class experiments on techniques for improving the sweetness of fruit by adjusting harvest time, refrigerating or freezing; exploring methods of reducing astringency by soaking, souring, etc; other culinary and recipe experiments like making persimmon breads or butters; and history extensions, conducting research on hoshigaki and other persimmon-based traditional foodways from around the world.

Jenny Dunker’s Feedback on the Lesson: “The persimmon lesson was excellent for my 6th and 8th grade students. They were drawn in to the subject through a thoughtful exploration of flavor and texture, making them eager to learn more about these fascinating trees. POP educators kept students engaged through a combination of hands on projects and multimedia. Students were excited to explore the development of the trees and fruit, propagation methods, and cultural practices surrounding the persimmon, even participating in a fruit preservation experiment! This lesson engages learners through a discovery-based exploration, broadening their tastes and providing a deeper appreciation for the trees right outside their school.”

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel with assistance from Repair the World fellow Megan Brookens.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Honoring Roseann McLaughlin and GrowAbility Honeybee Sensory Lesson Book (PDF Download)

Posted on Categories Beneficial Insects, Blog, Home, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , , , ,
Roseann McLaughlin (far right) along with staff at Overbrook School for the Blind during a groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s new greenhouse program.

It’s with deep sadness that we at the Philadelphia Orchard Project offer our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and community of Roseann McLaughlin of Overbrook School for the Blind, who passed November 2, 2018 in a tragic house fire. Roseann was the enthusiastic and loving cornerstone of the school’s Farm-To-Table program begun in 2013, which connected Overbrook students to healthy food, on-site gardening opportunities, an ever-expanding school orchard, and in-development greenhouse. She served at the school for 15 years as a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Practitioner, and Health Services Coordinator, and was recounted lovingly by staff and the larger community as one of the most encouraging, dedicated, and positive people and team members, who always had a kind word of support to share and a new idea to explore that could expand students’ horizons. She had the unique gift of making everyone feel appreciated — from staff who had known her for many years, to volunteers who came in to lend a hand, even for an afternoon.

In March 2017, she initiated a new collaborative curriculum endeavor named GrowAbility with agricultural educators around the city — including OverbrookElwyn, and Easter Seals schools, POP, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Penn State Extension, 4-H, Associated Services for the Blind, Philadelphia Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center, Greener Partners, and others — to asses how garden curriculum could be adapted for special needs students. In our last meeting together, we brainstormed ideas for new projects like making music from the plants of the orchard with a device that could translate plants’ electrical signaling into music, and could be felt by students with deep-bodily sensory-input needs through students’ vibratory backpacks. She delighted in the collaboration of new ideas, how they germinated, and grew. Her giving heart, commitment to her work and community, and her service-oriented spirit was unparalleled and will be sorely missed as a project partner we are blessed to have had, and as a kindred friend. It’s our deep wish that the continuation of this work honors her legacy for all those who were blessed to know her and carry her intentions and plans forward.

A GoFundMe campaign has been established to support her daughter Casey and grandson Michael. 

=== 

Honeybee Sensory Lesson 

In honor of Roseann McLaughlin and the collective consortium of educators she gathered, we share the first sensory-lesson book created by POP and reviewed by the GrowAbility collective as an adaptive activity guide book for special needs students.  Inspiration for the format first came from Linda Bucher of Overbrook School for the Blind, who supported the school’s Farm-to-Table program along with Roseann, teacher Lee Stough, Library Assistant/Farm-to-Table Job Coach Shannon Walsh, School Nutritionist Cathy Dorazio, and art teacher Susan DiFabio. 

Each page in this Honeybee Sensory Lesson Book (downloadable here) pairs information about the topic, life and role of honeybees in the larger ecosystem, with a sensory component that involves some mix of sight, smell, taste, movement, music / auditory input, solitary, and group work in recognition of the many ways students of all levels create pathways for learning, experience, and retention. 

Cover page for the 15-page book that can be adapted by teacher based on length of lesson and skill-level of students.

Each guidebook is adaptable — meaning teachers can choose which pages to present and props to use from the suggested accompanying prop-box based on the needs of their unique student group. We also include a rubric (downloadable here) that teachers can use as a guide for categorizing the book’s pages and for assessing students’ response to paged / themed activities. 

Students pretend to be drones with large-eyed sunglasses, fan the queen like a worker bee, and enact the process of pollination with hands-on tactile props.

Educators can consider a range of follow-up activities to complement the lesson book including art exercises making honeybees with tissue paper, as Lee Stough’s class had done (pictured here), visits with teaching demo beekeepers and hives (consult Philadelphia Beekeeper’s Guild for more info), planting pollinator gardens, making honey bee drinking dishes, etc. 

Teacher Lee Stough passes around a boar’s hair brush for students to feel the short bristly hairs of the honeybee that holds flowers’ pollen from one flower to the next.

This lesson was first offered to Lee Stough’s class, which includes a mix of student levels — from those with partial to fully obstructed sight, to those geared more toward sensory learning and to those able to perform at grade-level academically. The GrowAbility collective aims to pilot this lesson 10 times in the fall across various program sites including Elwyn, and Easter Seals Schools, Philadelphia Free Library branches, and with 4-H student groups and make edits to the curriculum with the larger collected findings.

As a follow-up to the lesson, Lee Stough’s class made flying honeybee decorations using tissue paper that the students ripped and glued in place.

Lee Stough’s Feedback on the Lesson: “The HoneyBee lesson was a big success with my students who have visual impairments and multiple disabilities.The adults also loved it and were as equally engaged as the students. The lesson allowed the students to learn about Honeybees through all their senses not just vision.  They were able to hear a swarm of bees through the classroom speakers, feel the hairs that are on the Honeybees by touching a Boars’ hair hairbrush, they were able to taste pollen grains, and smell the lemon scents bees give off to locate their hives. This lesson is in-depth and engaging.  Learners of all abilities will be engaged and want to participate.” 

If you’d like to pilot this lesson with your student group and loan the laminated book and accompanying prop box, feel free to reach out to Education Director Alyssa Schimmel, alyssa@phillyorchards.org 

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Getting Funky with Fermentation – MS/HS Lesson (PDF Download)

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , ,

If there’s one thing we continually learn in offering our School Orchard Program it’s that culinary classes are always a hit with students and teachers alike! They’re hands-on and sensory-rich, foster team-work, collaboration, and creative thinking, and offer educators a breadth of content integration possibilities. Take for instance a recent summertime lesson on fermentation we offered at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia, where students of the after-school and summer garden programs, cultivate a garden of assorted vegetable and fruit crops they sell twice weekly (Tues. 3:45-5 @ Sayre Health Center and Weds. 4-5 @ Red Cross House (4000 Powelton Ave) in their CSA Good Food Bag for the surrounding community with special focus upon those using SNAP/EBT.

The hands-on session provided an entry point to discussing regional culinary traditions informed by planned and local plant ecologies, botanical families of plants featured in the recipe and the school garden & orchard, and culinary science and biological processes, all while creating space for students to hatch new ideas of entrepreneurship & creating value-added products for the program from the landscape (a particular desire students expressed). What can we say? Orchards lend themselves naturally to interdisciplinary learning that feeds curiosity and awareness of interdependence at the same time they nourish with fresh food.

The lesson began by situating the timeliness of the material seasonally — asking students what methods of food preservation they might use at the peak of the season when they have more vegetables, fruits, and herbs harvested than they know what to do with. They shared a number of responses: canning, freezing, drying, pickling, and of course, donating and sharing the harvest with others — and then the funky one that packs a particular punch on the palette — fermentation. We sampled examples of fermented foods like sourdough bread, sauerkraut, and fizzy, fermented tea-beverage, kombucha, noting the signature saliva-producing lactic bite of foods gone funky, explored the chemistry that’s enacted in the process, and then delved into the hands-on sauerkraut-making portion that could incorporate orchard herbs like bee balm, oregano, and thyme, commonly planted in most if not all POP community orchards.

High school students in the summer program at Sayre High School practice their culinary skills by chopping cabbage to make sauerkraut — learning fermentation as a food preservation method used for preserving the harvest.

During our session together, students also drew personal parallels to their own culinary memories and traditions. One student, Jonathan, shared how sauerkraut always reminded him of his grandfather because they enjoy kraut-topped hot dogs at baseball games together every summer. We also discussed how cultured foods literally create culture (not only for groups of people), but also for the populations of bacteria, fungi, and yeast of a particular region/place that can be shared over many years, topographies, and borders. Take a look at Ione Christensen of Canada, for instance, who’s been tending to a 120-year old culture of sourdough that traveled to her from her great-grandfather back in 1897. That’s one kickin’ culture!

What’s more as fodder to ponder, is what as fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz calls, ‘the miracle of coevolution – that the bacteria that coexist with us in our bodies enable us to exist.’ In The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, Katz cites microbiologist Michael Wilson who notes “each surface of a human being is colonized by microbes exquisitely adapted to that particular environment” and in the era of the ‘war on bacteria,’ he advocates “the well-being of our microbial ecology requires replenishment and diversification now more than ever.” Equally relevant to the health of our digestive and immune systems in nourishing rich microbiomes, we also take this point for its application to organic orcharding. When we boost fertility and build fungal-rich soil through sheet-mulching, compost tea application and foliar sprays, the plants of the orchard thrive and and sustain themselves more readily from fending off other fungal or bacterial diseases, as noted organic orchardist and author Michael Phillips proposes.

May it be that the standards-based lesson materials available here as a PDF download — along with picture guide and handout — contribute in small part to the aim of  working in ever-closer harmony with the microbes of yeast, fungi, and bacteria that support the ecology of the orchards, our bodies, ourselves.

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Teaching Tomorrow’s Tenders – POP’s School Orchard Update Spring-Summer 2018

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
High school students in the summer program at Sayre High School practice their culinary skills by chopping cabbage to make sauerkraut — learning fermentation as a food preservation method used for preserving the harvest.

We’ve had a busy and bountiful spring season with POP’s School Orchard program and community educational initiatives. Since January, we’ve delivered 17 lessons to 6 school orchard partners (William L. Sayre High School, William T. Tilden Middle School, Henry C. Lea Elementary School, Overbrook School for the Blind, Penn Alexander School, John F. Hartranft School) and reached 210 students.

 

In early spring we released a quantitative and qualitative survey to our 12 school partners to receive feedback on the learning priorities and desired outcomes of each unique program so that we might offer meaningful and objective-aligned programatic services to partners. In addition to increasing engagement — getting more students out and into the school orchards to plant, maintain, and harvest from the orchards — school educators identified goals of building responsible students leaders who are literate and actively engaged in food systems work, and integrating school day programming through the gardens (Sayre HS, West Philly), to cultivating independent stewardship and increasing product creation (Tilden MS, West Philly), to having students actively engaged in the natural environments of the school grounds and understanding storm water management and natural technologies (Lea ES, West Philly).
Megan Brookens, POP’s Repair the World Fellow ’17-’18, assists second graders at Lea Elementary School in seeding plants representing the different parts of the plant we harvest for food: root, leaf, flower, and fruit.
To meet these aims this season, some of the lessons we offered included:
  • creating value-added products from the orchard: herbal tea bags and salves, wild edible identification and making infused vinegars
  • food preservation methods and traditions: sauerkraut fermentation
  • direct orchard-care topics including plant propagation; pruning; planting annual fruiting crops; planting by seed, start, and cuttings; and treating pest and disease with organic management practices.
We also created dynamic sensory-activity storybooks on honeybees and earthworms for use with students at Overbrook School for the Blind, which will be released as downloadable PDFs in a forthcoming POP blog. The honeybee lesson guidebook will be adapted for pilot use with 10 special needs classrooms citywide this fall through the GrowAbility Education Collective which joins partners including Overbrook School for the Blind, Elwyn, Easterseals, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Penn State Master Gardeners, Greener Partners, Philadelphia Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center, 4-H, Associated Services for the Blind, in adapting agricultural curriculum for special needs communities.
Students at Overbrook School for the Blind planted strawberries in the school’s courtyard Farm-to-Table garden.
Later this summer through fall, POP will also unveil a new community education initiative in conjunction with our POPHarvest gleaning program – which will host community teachers from a range of traditions to lead workshops geared around underutilized fruits and herbs of our orchards. Look out for classes on Caribbean foodways and cooking – spotlight on thyme and burdock with Nyambi Royster of Lighthouse Orchard; herbal oxymel making with Kelly McCarthy of Attic Apothecary; trifoliate fire cider making with Al Pascal of Fikira Bakery; gingko history and nut processing with naturalist LJ Brubaker; and hawthorn medicine making with Julia Aguilar. If you’re interested in leading a community workshop, reach out to Education Director Alyssa Schimmel (alyssa@phillyorchards.org) and Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer (michael@phillyorchards.org).

This POP program update written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel

 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Beetle Invasion! Coping with Japanese Beetles

Posted on Categories Berries & Vines, Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard Pests, Tree CareTags , , , , , , , , , ,

What green, Japanese terror costs more than 200 million dollars in damage each year? No, it’s not Godzilla…it’s Popillia japonica a.k.a, the Japanese beetle (JB)!

This tiny import has entrenched itself as one of the most notorious garden and orchard pests in the United States, devouring acres of fields, trees, and shrubs each year.

M.G. Klein, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Grower beware! — more than 300 plant species are susceptible to Japanese Beetles, including many POP orchard favorites like apples, grapes, apricots, cherries, plums, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries! 

But, before you go fleeing the streets in response to its feedings of fury, here are a few ways you can combat this garden nemesis with proper knowledge of its life cycle, feeding habits, and some organic controls you might employ to outsmart this little bugger!

David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Identification

Adults 

Both adults and grubs (larval stage) are problematic plant pests. Adults feed on leaves, flowers, and fruits, while grubs feed on roots.

Adults are about ½ inch long with distinct coloration. The head and thorax are metallic-green while the wings are bronze. Additionally, six small, white, hairy patches line the sides and back of the abdomen.

Adults are most active from late spring to midsummer. ‘Skeletonized’ leaves seen below are classic indicators of JB foraging. In orchards, JBs are particularly keen to feed on apples (Honeycrisp), blueberries (Bluecrop), and raspberries (Chinook and Heritage). 

Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org
William Fountain, University of Kentucky, Bugwood.org

Grubs

Grubs prove harder to locate as they spend their time underground. However, noticeable brown patches on your lawn may warrant further investigation.

To search for grubs, dig a small hole a few inches deep near the edge of the damaged area. Grubs are about an inch long with a white-colored body and light-brown legs and head.

Look for active grubs from early spring to late autumn. During winter months they will hibernate in deeper soil.

USDA Agricultural Research Service , USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org
M.G. Klein, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org 

Japanese Beetle Life Cycle 

University of Minnesota Extension

Understanding JB’s life cycle is key for timing the proper offense. Grubs overwinter 8-10 inches deep in the soil  during early winter.  As soil temperatures warm during early spring (April – May), grubs begin rising to the surface, feeding on turf roots. If you have an infestation, you’ll likely see large brown patches of grass.

In June, the grubs pupate, and by July, adults emerge from the soil in early July to feed, mate, and lay eggs where they feed on vines, linden trees, roses, and other savory ornamentals.

In the bright sun of day, adults feed on the topmost portion of plants, and by dusk, females fly to turf to lay their eggs. Adults live for 60 days and feed intensely July-August (the best time to apply organic insecticidal controls for grubs). Over 2 months, females will lay a total of 60 eggs.

Prevention & Control

  • Chemical Measures:
    • Insecticides/Pesticides
      • A number of chemical applications are effective against adults and grubs. Consult your local cooperative extension office before electing to go this route.
      • Other Applications
        • Homemade solutions of dishwashing soap or oils (e.g. neem oil) can deter adult feedings for 3-4 days at a time, and even affect future grub generations; they are easy to apply and pose fewer environmental risks.
        • Unfortunately, insecticidal soaps and homemade extracts of garlic, orange peels, and hot pepper are largely ineffective.
  • Biological Control:
    • Predators/Parasites
      • Bacterial parasites (e.g. Milky spore), and nematodes (e.g. Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) can eradicate grubs. Both are available commercially and easily applied to soil.
      • Parasitic tiphid wasps (Tiphia vernalis) and Isotcheta aldrichi flies have been established in some areas. Growing specific plants may attract these species as well as other beneficial insects.
    • Habitat Manipulation
      • Over 300 plant species are susceptible to JB’s, including many favorites in our POP orchards like: apples, grapes, apricots, cherries, plums, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, roses, chestnuts, and walnuts. 
      • Try diversifying your plantings to reduce potential feeding sites for JB pests and consider a number of potential deterrents like: American elder, common lilac, juniper, red maple, white ash, white poplar, fir, etc. 
  • Tips to reduce crop damage:
    • Remove damaged or rotting fruit as the odor attracts more adults.
    • Keep growing areas clear of moist soil containing weeds and grasses, where adults like to lay eggs.
    • Try planting more ‘JB-preferred’ species (e.g. Pennsylvania smartweed) to draw adults away from crops.

For more information:

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/manuals/domestic/downloads/japanese_beetle.pdf

https://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/plant_pest_info/jb/downloads/JBhandbook.pdf

https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/japanese-beetles/

https://entomology.ca.uky.edu/ef451

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/beetles/japanese_beetle.htm

http://www.entomology.wisc.edu/mbcn/fea508.html

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/managing_japanese_beetles_in_fruit_crops

This POP Pest Feature was written by nutrition educator and volunteer blog contributor Matthew Self. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Amaranth: Super feed, Super weed

Posted on Categories Blog, Harvesting, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, Wild EdiblesTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amaranth/Pigweed is one of dozens of the most common urban weeds included in POP’s Weed Identification Guide, which is available for order through our website

I must have seen amaranth a thousand times, as an easily-pulled seedling in my vegetable garden—but I never really noticed it until I stepped onto an organic farm in early fall and beheld a true monster. A weed it may still have been, but now it was almost my height, and tenaciously hard to uproot.

Towering stands of amaranth ripen in late summer.

The genus Amaranthus has produced excellent food crops, lovely ornamental plants, and some of agriculture and horticulture’s most pernicious weeds. Native to South and Central America, plants in this genus (amaranths) have spread around the world, making their way into Korean side dishes, Mexican candies, and Jamaican callaloo. Some amaranth plants, such as Love-Lies-Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) are cultivated as ornamentals. The amaranth plants that turn up as weeds in farms, orchards and just about everywhere else are often collectively known as pigweed, although one (A. tuberculatus/A. rudis) is more often called common waterhemp.

Because there are more than 70 species of amaranth and there isn’t a lot of difference between them, it may be enough functionally to identify the plant as amaranth. Two of the most common weedy species are Amaranthus retroflexus (common or redroot amaranth), and A. palmeri (Palmer amaranth, native to southern North America). Both are short-lived, annual, herbaceous plants, but if left alone they can grow taller than 3 meters and become somewhat woody. They send down a tough taproot, especially in tilled soil. Redroot gets its name from the red base of the stem, although this isn’t unique to that species. Palmer amaranth is considered a very dangerous weed, especially in the southern United States, where it threatens the cotton and soybean industries—it evolves fast, and has become resistant to many herbicides, including RoundUp.

Pigweed can grow very fast in full sun, but in the shade of an established orchard it shouldn’t be as much of a threat. However, amaranths seed prolifically—palmer amaranth, for example, can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant.

How do I recognize amaranth?

Amaranth is pretty easy to recognize once it starts flowering. The flower spikes are long and tapering and often bunched at the top of the plant. It looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. The individual flowers are prickly-looking, tightly packed together, and usually range from green to red in color. Later, these clusters will bear thousands of tiny brown or black seeds, which may or may not start falling off the plant prodigiously in late summer, dropping out of their hidden dens in the chaff of the flowers. Some amaranth species are dioecious—meaning that a plant will be male or female—with the female plant often much bigger and hardier.

The tightly bunched, tapered flowers of amaranth produce hundreds of edible seeds.

Of course, if your aim is control rather than aesthetic appreciation, you probably don’t want to wait until it flowers. Depending on species and the specific plant, the leaves may be anything from oval to paddle-shaped to diamond-shaped; often, they end up looking something like a spear tip. That impression is enhanced by the fact that the plant thrusts its leaves out from the stem on long “petioles”—leaf-stems—that in some species like Palmer amaranth can be longer than the leaf itself. The leaves are all singular, not bunched, and spaced widely so they catch as much light as possible. This is a plant out for every edge it can get. This leaf spacing pattern shows in the youngest seedlings, and in some species those seedlings also have a notched tip, making them easy to identify and pull up if you want to get rid of them before they get too big. Older leaves may be smoothish or hardy and somewhat hairy.

Can I eat this?

Please read our legal disclaimer at the bottom of the article before making use of the information in this section! 

People have done so for thousands of years! The seed of Amaranthus cruentus (what we call red or purple amaranth) was one of the staple foods of the Aztecs, who called it huautli and demanded it as tribute from their Mesoamerican subjects. They even used the ground seed and honey to form religious figurines. Spanish conquistadors cruelly banned amaranth cultivation because of its religious significance and use in human sacrificial ritual—although amaranth figurines have persisted as part of Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Now, Indigenous groups and others are pressing to bring the grain back: it’s very protein-rich and may withstand some harsh weather conditions that make other crops vulnerable to climate change. The leaves of amaranth plants are edible, too, used as a cooked leafy vegetable in cuisines worldwide.
Harvest amaranth while it’s still young and tender, usually when it’s first emerging!

Cultivated amaranth seeds are white, while the wild varieties tend to be black. It’s unclear whether this affects the edibility of the seeds—the wild seeds are difficult to harvest except at very specific times of year, and it’s hard to separate the thousands of tiny grains from the chaff. Unless you have a lot of time or dedicated equipment, it’s probably not worth trying to make a meal out of amaranth seed.

The leaves are still edible, though—with some caveats.

Amaranth tends to collect nutrients in its environment, especially nitrates, and if it’s in a heavily fertilized area these nitrates can accumulate to the point of being bad for your health. Avoid eating too much amaranth from agricultural fields. The leaves (like those of spinach, sorrel and many other greens) also contain oxalic acid, which can be poisonous to livestock or to humans with kidney issues of eaten in large amounts. You shouldn’t eat any amaranth (or any other plant) you find growing in an environment that could be contaminated with toxins like heavy metals or that may have been sprayed with any kind of pesticide or herbicide. Combined, those restrictions eliminate most amaranth plants growing in urban, roadside, agricultural and horticultural environments, as well as many gardens. Depending on the use of sprays or herbicides, you may or may not be able to eat the amaranth you find growing in your POP orchard. If you’re in a chemical-free orchard that’s far from sources of contamination, you can probably feel free to enjoy amaranth as an occasional or common side dish, depending on how nitrate-rich the soil is, while you’ll likely want to avoid those growing in commercial orchards that use some forms of herbicides or pesticides.

If you plan to eat amaranth, get it while it is still young and tender—coincidentally, also the time that makes the most sense for weed control. The plant is robust and tough once it gets older, and hard to wrangle once those seeds develop. Get it early and boil it up like spinach—or just throw it on the compost pile. But even if you don’t eat it, give this plant a hand for its extraordinary survival abilities, adaptive nature, and its roles in human societies throughout history.

This POP Plant Feature was written by volunteer blog contributor Katie Pflaumer. Katie Pflaumer is a writer, editor and legume enthusiast with interests in ethnobotany, edible wild plants, and the uses of agriculture and horticulture to build just and sustainable societies.

Disclaimer

The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

To the best of our knowledge,​ the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed​ material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness,​ or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned ​herein.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Stink Bugs: A Widespread Orchard Pest

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard PestsTags , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Photo Credit: Lynn Bunting / Getty

Most of us have seen a stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), whether it’s crawling in your house or on your crops. These mottled grayish-brown bugs are ¾’’ in length, six-legged, and have a triangular or shield-shaped body and are probably most perceptibly known for the nauseating stench they release from their thorax when disturbed or crushed. But, have you ever wondered about the story of these beautiful, pervasive, yet destructive creatures?

One of the most versatile pests found in Pennsylvania, these bugs can overwinter beneath brush, under tree bark, in wood piles, or even in your warm wintertime home. When the weather warms, they migrate outside to breed, feed, and devastate your harvest — all in the same year.

The female lays clusters of 150 eggs on plant leaves, trees branches, or on houses,  which can range in color from yellow, brown, white or pink depending on the aging of the nymphs inside. In their nymph stage, the insects are flightless but multiple stages of breeding can happen in the course of the season — meaning their population increases significantly as crops move toward maturity. A field guide to stink-bugs depicting their life cycle, species variety, and feeding habits can be found here

Brown marmorated stink bugs are the most widespread species and are not native to the region. This invasive East Asian species arrived in Pennsylvania in 1996, likely on shipping crates.  Another stink bug species, Harlequin bugs/beetles, are a major pest for cabbage family crops in the region.  

Lacking the natural predators needed to control their spread, stink bugs have flourished until their population growth came to the attention of scientists in Allentown a few years later in 1998.

After the first sighting in Pennsylvania, the stink bug made its way to New Jersey by 1999, Maryland by 2003, West Virginia and Delaware by 2004; now the only states that do not have stink bugs are Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska. They are also migrating on a global scale due to their ability to cling to different forms of transportation.

Figure 2. U.S. counties where BMSB has been detected as of November 2017. Map via EDDMapS.

Brown marmorated stink bugs feed on a wide variety of fruiting plants we grow in our orchard spaces including apples, raspberries, stone fruits including peaches and apricots, figs, mulberries, citrus fruits and persimmons. They’re fruit lovers (how can we blame them!) but they will also settle on feeding on fleshy stems and leaves. They also consume other plants often grown in North America such as beans, corn, tomatoes, soybeans and many ornamental plants and weeds. For a full list of high, moderate, and low risk crops, see the StopBMSB website.

Besides seeing the stink bugs themselves, you might also notice signs of their feeding, such as a distortion referred to as “cat facing,” the development of spongy areas, or internal tissue damage, as with the images of these affected apples (below), which can lead to more decay, fallen fruit, and spoilage.

Figure 4. Stink Bug Apple Damage – Credit: https://academic.oup.com/jipm/article/5/3/A1/2193939

Stink Bug Prevention 

There are a number of mechanical, chemical, and biological controls you can use to lessen damage from the stink bug’s piercing-and-sucking mouthparts this season. Keep areas around gardens clear of tall grass, brambles, downed limbs and litter to help minimize spaces for overwintering. By building good soil life and adding regular spring and fall applications of compost to the base of your trees, you can also help to build a vibrant soil ecology to out compete predation from these insects. Row covers, trap crops, pheromone traps, and use of beneficials can also help.

If you have the time and resources, you can grow early crops of stink-bug favorites such as sweet corn, amaranth, and okra which can be destroyed once they’re infested with the pests.

Beneficial insects can also be helpful in controlling stink bug populations. You might consider planting flowers and herbs to help attract parasitic wasps, ladybird beetles, minute pirate bugs, lacewings and other allies that can help control their populations by feeding on stink bugs during stages of their development.  The umbel family of plants (fennel, dill, queen anne’s lace, etc) are particularly effective at attracting some of these beneficials, as are other small-flowered plants like yarrow, coneflowers, and asters.  

Spray applications of kaolin clay on areas of heavy feeding, or neem oil and insecticidal soap (especially earlier in the season) can help provide barriers to stink bugs’ feeding and mating. In the case of severe infestations, you might also consider applying pyrethrin.  Check out the linked POP articles to understand the uses of these organic sprays! 

Set up a simple stink bug trap with an aluminum baking pan, desk light, and a little detergent! Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/stink-bug-trap/

And, if stink bugs have begun to overwinter in your home, Planet Natural recommends the following fix: “Fill an aluminum turkey pan, preferably recycled, with an inch or so of water and stir in a little dish detergent. Shine a lamp (like a desk lamp) on the surface and leave it on overnight. The light attracts the bugs who land in the water and are held by the detergent. From there, you know what to do.”

Resources:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/12/when-twenty-six-thousand-stinkbugs-invade-your-home

https://www.pestworld.org/pest-guide/occasional-invaders/stink-bugs/

https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/stink-bugs

https://extension.psu.edu/brown-marmorated-stink-bug

EDDMapS. 2017. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online; last accessed 30 November 2017.

https://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/stink-bugs-garden

https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/garden-pests/stink-bugs/

This POP Blog post was written by POP 2017/18 Repair the World Fellow Megan Brookens. 

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Shrubs with Shrubs: Incorporating Underutilized Shrubs into Your Garden, and Your Cocktails

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, Plants, POPharvestsTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consider this, in part, a preview to POPCORE3: Plants & Fungi We Love and What To Do With Them on March 22nd, part of our Community Orchard Resilience Education series.  We hope you’ll join us to learn new ways to craft from and celebrate your orchard plantings. 

Shrub: a small to medium-sized woody plant

Shrub: a cocktail or soft drink made by mixing a vinegar-ed syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water.

Drinking-vinegars, otherwise known as ‘shrubs’ date back to colonial America when colonists used vinegar in the preservation of fruit and berries. These fruit preserves themselves, became known as ‘shrubs’ however by the 19th century, many Americans began incorporating these fruit-infused, flavored vinegars into drink recipes, utilizing the vinegar in the making of a sweet-and-sour syrup which was then topped with water, soda, or cocktails.

In recent years, the shrub has made a resurgence, as both a trendy cocktail and potential dietary and weight-loss trend. As we observe the comeback of the shrub, why not highlight its use with some of POP’s favorite fruiting shrub varieties. The three species discussed below are just a few of the diverse shrub plants grown throughout POP orchards that can present gardeners with hardy, versatile, underutilized, options for hedge-lining, screening applications, and overall garden aesthetics and health – and as a bonus, they fruit too!

General History and Growing Conditions

Cornelian cherries are among the first to blossom in early winter. Their shiny, oblong fruit packs a powerful flavor punch!

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

The cornelian cherry is actually a species of Dogwood, however its name originate from the small, red, cherry-like fruits resembling the gemstone, carnelian. Although native to central and southern Europe into western Asia, it is cultivated throughout the United States, specifically USDA zones 4 through 8. Relatively easy to grow, it prefers moist, organically-rich soils with sufficient drainage, in full sun to part shade. It is also shows excellent resistance to dogwood anthracnose, a fungus-caused disease, and dogwood borer, a species of moth.

Growing to approximately 15-25 feet tall and a spread of about 12-20 feet wide, the cornelian cherry is perhaps more a small multi-stemmed tree than shrub. It is one of the first of any woody plants to bloom in late Winter to early Spring, presenting a display of yellow flowers even before Forsythia.

Light-red, oval, pitted, fruits emerge in early to late spring, turning darker-red as they ripen in mid-summer. When picked prior to ripening, they present a very sour, astringent taste; however when fully ripe, they are much sweeter although still a bit tart.  There are also some yellow-fruited varieties that in POP orchards seem to be sweeter and less prone to bird predation.  

A key nitrogen fixer for the orchard, goumis are versatile plantings – cold-hardy, reliable, steady producers with a flavor profile unlike any other!

Goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora)

Another non-indigenous shrub, the Goumi hails from eastern Russia, China, and Japan. Although it was introduced to the United States over one hundred years ago it remains an underutilized species. The goumi is a winter-hardy shrub, semi-evergreen, easily grown throughout USDA zones 4-9, preferring medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Although it will tolerate a variety of soils, avoid those that are overly wet and that drain poorly.

The goumi grows approximately 6-10 feet tall, significantly smaller and less wide than the cornelian cherry. Early spring blooms give way to small, yellowish, fragrant flowers that draw an array of pollinators. Goumi shrubs are also nitrogen-fixers, thereby releasing nitrogen following pruning, which ideally should be done after fruiting in mid to late Summer.

Goumis are often the first fruit of spring, sometimes ripening as early as May.  The red, oblong, fruits are mildly astringent when not fully ripe but become sweeter and darker in color the longer they remain on the bush.  Goumis have performed and produced fantastically well in POP orchards in a variety of settings.  

Honeyberries ripen two weeks before early-spring favorite: the strawberry. Consider planting the honeyberry in your orchard to widen the availability of early season fruit!

Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea)

Going by a number of names (blue honeysuckle, sweetberry honeysuckle, haskap), the honeyberry is native to moist, boreal forests throughout the world, including the United States, but also in Asia and Europe. Another winter-hardy shrub, it will grow across USDA zones 2-7. However, when grown south of zone 7, plants may not receive enough chilling hours in winter to produce abundant fruit. Shrubs prefer organically-rich, moist but well-drained soils. Consistent moisture appears particularly vital for the honeyberry, although once established the shrub shows some drought tolerance. Use of mulch typically helps to retain moisture around the growing area. Unlike the goumi, honeyberries are not self-fertile and therefore need to be planted in pairs or in groups.

A bit smaller than goumi, the honeyberry grows approximately 4-6 feet tall with attractive grayish-green leaves and pale yellowish-white flowers the bloom in late Spring to early Summer.

Unlike many of its honeysuckle relatives, the honeyberry produces an edible, blueberry-like fruit. Appearing in mid to late Spring, the small, teardrop, almost bell-shaped fruits, ripen in mid-Summer, presenting with a brilliant blue exterior, and dark, reddish-purple insides.  Unfortunately, honeyberries have not performed well in POP orchards, perhaps because we are at the southern edge of their preferred temperature zones.  

Nutritional Value and Applications

All three species present with a variety of nutritional benefits. Like many more commonly utilized berries, the cornelian cherry, goumi and honeyberry offer a rich concentration of antioxidant compounds. Despite their lack of notoriety in the mainstream fruit market, quite a bit of research has focused on these species, particularly the cornelian cherry and honeyberry, for their ability to reduce inflammation, thereby reducing risk of atherosclerosis and other disorders where high blood lipids or high blood sugar may be associated. Less work has been done on the goumi thus far, however it’s close relative, the autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate), has been studied a bit more and has shown to possess similar concentrations of antioxidants and ant-inflammatory compounds.

Apart from enjoying raw, there are a variety of applications for which these fruits can be utilized including jellies and jams, pies and other pastries, ice creams and sorbets, sauces, juices, or even wine.

In sticking with our ‘shrub’ theme, however, here are three original recipes featuring each of our above-mentioned shrubs in a refreshing drinking-vinegar that can be enjoyed with or without an accompanying spirit.

Although there’s much room for improvisation in these recipes, you’ll want to include the essential shrub-component – the vinegared-syrup – which comprises the following:

  • Vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Fruit
  • Herbs or other flavorings

These components are then heated together in a saucepan to dissolve the sugar and release the flavors of the fruit and other herbs or spices. For an in-depth description on shrub-making, click here.

Shrubs with Shrubs Recipes:

Old Fashioned Cornelius

We don’t know if there was an actual person named Cornelius who enjoyed the refreshing taste of Cornelian Cherry shrubs in the days of colonial America…but don’t you think there should be….

Cornelian cherry vinegar:

  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup cornelian cherries
  • ½ Tbsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Drink:

  • 1 oz cornelian cherry vinegar
  • 1 oz. bourbon (optional)
  • ½ Tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 5-7 oz. club soda (or equivalent)
  • Pour over ice, stir, garnish with orange wedge and fresh thyme

Dark and Goumi

The name and color of this drink give way to the ominous, angry seas and devil-may-care pirate days of yore….it’s also just a corny play on a Dark and Stormy – goumi is just so fun to say!

Goumi vinegar:

  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ – ½  cup sugar
  • ½ cup goumi berries
  • ½  Tbsp. chopped, fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Drink:

  • 1 oz goumi vinegar
  • 1 oz. rum, preferably dark (optional)
  • ½ Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 5-7 oz. ginger beer (or equivalent)
  • Pour over ice, stir, garnish with lime wedge

Honeyberry Bee’s Knees

With a name like honeyberry it’s hard to pass-up the chance on making a modified version of this prohibition-era favorite featuring honey and lemon – history states that the flavors were added to less-than-ideal, ‘bathtub gin’, to mask the flavor – what better to mask the flavor here than a little honeyberry vinegar!

Honeyberry vinegar:

  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup honeyberries
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Drink:

  • 1 oz honeyberry vinegar
  • 1 oz. gin (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 5-7 oz. club soda (or equivalent)
  • Pour over ice, stir, garnish with lemon wedge

Sources: 

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c290

https://hvp.osu.edu/pocketgardener/source/description/co_mas.html

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=361161&isprofile=0&=

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=f353

http://uncommonfruit.cias.wisc.edu/goumi-gumi/

http://www.usefulplants.org/index.php/blog/item/what-do-honeyberries-chickasaw-plums-goumis-and-mulberries-have-in-common

This POP blog was written by nutrition educator and volunteer blog contributor Matthew Self. 

Support us! 

If you find this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Unusual Fruits for Philly Orchards: The Benefits of Being Different

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On February 10th 2018, more than 20 people gathered at Awbury Agricultural Village to learn about some of the “unusual” fruits that POP plants and why. There were some great takeaways from this workshop including learning more in depth about some of the less common options available to Philadelphia-based orchards. The most important piece from my perspective, was understanding that these “unusual” fruits were not just exciting because they were less common, but because they are also generally a lot easier to care for compared to common fruits.

Apples and peaches were highlighted as being among the most challenging to grow in our climate because of intense pest and disease pressure.  They and all of the other common fruits are closely related members of the Rosaceae family and are prone to a variety of growing challenges, resulting in greater need for pruning, spraying, and other maintenance requirements. 

By contrast, figs, paw paws, persimmons and other “unusual” fruits are less commonly planted, more distantly related, and much easier to grow and maintain. How much easier?  This depends on the specific plant, but most have very few pest and disease challenges and many approach our idyllic vision of fruit growing as “plant, water, and then harvest year after year”.    

So it’s one thing for certain fruits to be easier to grow, but what about the other benefits? Well, with more than 30 fruits discussed, plus a handful of nuts and some zone 8 possibilities, there’s a great variety and selection to choose from, and by incorporating a diverse array of them into your growing space, you can continue to lessen the impact of pests and diseases, which favor targeting large stands of singular plantings  (or ‘monocultures’) rather than having to scavenge through mixed plantings all over the city.

Another benefit from planting more unusual fruits is the opportunity to increase your window for harvestable fruit – beginning in May with the goumi berry, a sweet-tart berry that can be used for jellies or syrups. The goumi is a medium sized shrub that is self-fertile (meaning you only need one to produce fruit); partial-shade tolerant; and nitrogen fixing (meaning it absorbs the important nutrient nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil near its roots, thus feeding itself and other neighboring plants).  An ideal plant for food forests!  

Native to East Asia, the goumi fruit is an early-spring producer with tart-sweet berries that have small pits and richly speckled coral-red skin.

Come June, there are many harvest options among the unusual fruit set —  including the aforementioned goumi; the mulberry, beloved by birds as the sweetest fruit; honey berry, a small shrub with blueberry like fruits; alpine strawberries, which produce crops in both June and in September/October and grow low to the ground, tolerant of partial-shade, and in addition to producing sweet berries, are also quite attractive; and of course juneberries, which get their name from the their ripening month. A true POP favorite, juneberries (also known as serviceberries) have a widespread presence in Philly as a native planting that is frequently featured as a street tree throughout the city.  

As the native Juneberry tree ripens, the berries turn from magenta into a deep blue-purple and their flavor develops with its signature blueberry-almond-cherry notes.

If you’re interested in getting a more hands-on experience with juneberries, keep a look-out for POP’s 3rd annual Juneberry Joy week in Spring 2018.  We’ll be harvesting juneberries from throughout the city with volunteers and then partnering with local businesses to feature some delicious juneberry products.

In July at the peak of summer, your options are a’plenty! Nanking cherries, black, clove, red and white currants, gooseberry, jostaberry, and beach plum are all in fruit this time of year. These mostly small and medium shrubs offer a variety of tasty, healthy fruits; nanking cherries are quite productive and ornamental; and currants are especially shade tolerant.  

2016 intern Lucia Kearney harvests Nanking cherries at Awbury Arboretum.

From August through November, another 15+ shrubs and trees enter their prime blossoming and fruit period: figs, paw paws, persimmons, jujubes, cornelian cherry, elderberries, and hardy kiwis, to name a few! 

Jujubes (aka Chinese red date) at the SHARE orchard.  This fruit has been cultivated for four thousand years and features vitamin C-rich fruit that are easy to grow and very productive!

By working with a diversity of plants, POP orchards are able to meet a wide range of needs, whether it be producing fruits for specific times of the year (useful to consider for school orchard sites) or throughout the entire year, providing benefit to the community as well as to pollinators, offering a variety of food crops that can be used to make value added products, frozen, dried, or of course eaten fresh!

One of the first trees to flower in late winter/early spring, cornelian cherry of the Dogwood family provides fodder for early pollinators like birds and bees!

It’s exciting to know that there are so many options for low-maintenance fruit-bearing shrubs and trees that provide so many different benefits to the orchard.  If you’re interested in learning more about these easy-to-grow options, below is a list in order from most recommended (for both ease of care and deliciousness) to least recommended.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention the AMAZING paw-paw pudding Phil provided at the end of the workshop – which was a real treat!

UNCOMMON FRUIT TREES (most recommended to least for ease of care and deliciousness):

  1. Fig
  2. Paw-paw
  3. Asian Pear (although a common fruit, pretty pest and disease resistant)
  4. Juneberry
  5. Asian Persimmon
  6. American Persimmon
  7. Mulberry
  8. Jujube
  9. Crab Apple
  10. Che fruit
  11. Cornelian Cherry
  12. Kousa Dogwood
  13. Trifoliate Orange (Only citrus hardy to the region)
  14. Medlar
  15. Quince

UNCOMMON FRUITING SHRUBS (most recommended to least):

  1. Nanking Cherry
  2. Goumi
  3. Red & White Currants
  4. Jostaberry
  5. Black Currants
  6. Clove Currants
  7. Gooseberry
  8. Elderberry
  9. Beach Plum
  10. Black Chokeberry
  11. Rugosa Rose (aka Rose Hips)
  12. Flowering Quince
  13. Honey Berry

UNCOMMON FRUITING VINES (most recommended to least):

  1. Hardy Kiwi
  2. Arctic Beauty Kiwi
  3. Maypop

UNCOMMON FRUITING GROUNDCOVERS:

  1. Alpine Strawberry
  2. Prickly Pear

NUT-PRODUCING TREES AND SHRUBS:

  1. Hardy Almonds (almond x peach crosses)
  2. Chestnuts and Chinquapins
  3. Hazels and Filberts
  4. Pecans and Hickories
  5. Walnuts and Heartnuts

ZONE 8 FRUITING PLANTS (require winter protection):

  1. Pomegranate
  2. Olive
  3. Chilean Guava
  4. Pineapple Guava
  5. Loquat
  6. Yuzu

NOTE: The lists above are not exhaustive- so many options!  Here is a link to the workshop slides for more details:

Unusual Fruits for Philly 

This POP blog was written by 2018 Events & Education Intern Alex Zaremba. 

Support us! 

If you find this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Farming for the Future: Recap of the 2018 PASA Winter Conference

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POP staff were thrilled to attend Farming for the Future, the 2018 PASA Winter Conference.

The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, or PASA, is the largest statewide, member-based sustainable farming organization in the United States, which grew out of the need for an educational and support system for farmers – both experienced and beginning. PASA works to improve the economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility of food and farming systems in Pennsylvania and across the country with a mission to promote profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment. Their work is rooted in education and support for farmers, and outreach to the general public.

Fedco Trees display some historic apple varietals for the upcoming growing season

PASA’s signature event is the annual Winter Conference that POP’s Education Director Alyssa and Orchard Director Michael just attended. It is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind in the East, a vehicle for community building and education that brings together farmers, processors, consumers, students, environmentalists, and business and community leaders.

This year’s theme was Farming for the Future: Farming in a Time of Transition, which seems all too true! The content was impressive with almost any farming topic imaginable represented through the 100+ speakers, intensive workshops, and 90+ trade show vendors. While there is an abundance to soak in educationally, the opportunity to network and socialize is equally present all day and evening for four full days – if you haven’t taken in too much and need a nap!

This year had more orchard-related content than ever with intensive workshops on all of the following topics and more:

  • Organic Apple and Peach Production
  • Kiwi Berries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, and Blueberries
  • Biological Orcharding
  • Holistic Orchard Spray Decisions
  • Biological Alchemy
  • Urban Ecosystems
  • Urban Farmer Real Talk

POP staff attempted to soak in as much of this content as possible! Michael Phillips, a pioneer of holistic orcharding, had numerous workshops that dove into the many biological connections that can contribute to a healthy orchard ecosystem. And if you were lucky, you got to chat him up over a drink afterwards!

Michael Phillips encourages adopting fungal consciousness during his Biological Alchemy workshop, recognizing symbiosis as a principle life strategy

In Biological Orcharding and Alchemy workshops with Phillips, we dove into the details of beneficial fungal connections and how fungi create symbiotic relationships with plants and plant networks, soil building and the importance of all trace minerals, the immune system and physiology of orchard plants, the role of biodiversity in providing services to the plant community you are cultivating and the environment at large- including beneficial insects that will eat your pests, holistic orchard products and ways to produce your own from available materials. The work that Michael Phillips does aligns with much of what we encourage in POP Orchards and Food Forests.

Community activist Karen Washington addresses the crisis of malnourishment that affects 795 million people worldwide.

Other notable highlights included a keynote address and breakout sessions with the formidable Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm, a community activist whose work in New York City explores food access, justice, and sovereignty at the intersections of race, class, gender, climate change, and the current economic and political systems. A powerhouse of knowledge and passion, Washington inspired dynamic conversations among attendees — exploring and depicting what food justice and sovereignty look and feel like, truly, in an era where the terms themselves can be threatened by rhetorical overuse if not embodied.

To grow your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what youre eating because you grew it.  Its good, its nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” Karen Washington

The PASA conference is a magical place, where you get to meet and hear from knowledgeable farmers from all over you would probably never come across other than on their farms, as well as busy urban farmers that you might also never see unless you’re working together to plant, prune, weed, mulch, and harvest.

We were happy to see Philadelphia well represented with Soil Generation Solidarity uprooting racism, Norris Square Neighborhood Project teaching hyper-local apothecary skills, Heritage Farm with high functioning high tunnels, Robyn Mello distilling her urban social and landscape ecosystem design considerations, Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm discussing small space and vertical gardening with recycled materials, many other Philly farmers running around and in discussion, and an urban farmer meetup hosted by Urban Tree Connection, Penn State Extension, and The Food Trust.

More good news for Philly area farmers- next year’s conference will be closer- to be held in Lancaster rather than State College. We highly recommend attending in the future if it’s your jam!  

This conference recap was written by Orchard Director Michael Muehlbauer, with contributions from Education Director Alyssa Schimmel. 

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