Orchard Spotlight: Indian Orchards in Media, PA

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard CareTags , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Four generations of Bernhardts stand in front of Indian Orchard’s historic barn-house

At Indian Orchards in Media, PA, orchard care is a family affair. The Bernhardt family, now in their fourth generation, manage the 104-year-old, 36-acre organic property which offers diverse picked, and you-pick plantings of blackberries, raspberries, apples, plums, apricots, peaches, and more, along with seasonal offerings like cider, jams, hollies, and Christmas trees.

The property, tucked off of Rt. 352 in Delaware County just 30 minutes from Philadelphia, is a vestige to carefully tended farm traditions that evolve over time, like a cherished recipe, or rows of decades-old burled trees overlooking newly planted ones, yet still to set out fruit.

POP orchardists toured the site as part of Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s (PASA) springtime series to learn about Indian Orchards’ unique history, preservation, and care practices. The property dates back as early as 1794 with the historic barn-house from that time still standing. During the Japanese American War in the early 1940s, the property became a refuge and a place to establish livelihood for formerly interned Japanese, who worked picking fruit in the orchard. In 1981, the property became officially protected as a historic property with the Middle Township Land Conservancy.

Son Ben and father Bob share their experiences growing different varieties of peaches

Current caretaker Ben Bernhardt, and parents Nancy and Bob led the group through the site’s winding terraces and shared anecdotes about their favorite fruit varietals and what they’ve learned over the years.

Even with a productive orchard as theirs, which leaves little remaining fruit for cider-making (they produce a humble 70 gallons a year) the orchard has only ever been managed part-time. The plantings are hand-tended and pruned, and on occasion, hand-sprayed with organic pest and disease controls against some of their most common pests and diseases like Japanese beetle, bagworm, fire blight, milky spore, scale, and brown rot.

Sometimes, on the very rare occasion, more strident mechanical measures are taken, as Bob Bernhardt, recounted jokingly. “Once we had an old apple tree that wasn’t producing much anymore…and my father went up to the tree with a chain saw and told the tree it might have to be cut down. It fruited the next year.”

Fruit tree ultimatums are not common practice, however. Rather, the caretakers seem to hold a deep reverence toward their plantings with a flexibility that involves a great deal of interplanting and experimentation with varieties.

Smartnet affixed to hardwood posts helps protect Indian Orchards’ blueberry crop from pecking birds

Blueberries, peaches, and apples are major crops for Indian Orchards. Among the 25 varieties of blueberries they plant, with some still producing well up into their 50th year, Ben favors ‘Duke,’ ‘Legacy,’ and ‘Liberty.’ ‘Duke’ flowers late yet ripens early, protecting the crop from early spring frost, and ‘Liberty,’ as Ben shared, produces fruit that is “out-of-this-world flavorful.”

The blueberry crops fruit from June through August, variety dependent, and are maintained with minimal seasonal pruning, and the addition of four inches of peat mulch each year to maintain the shrub’s acid-loving soil conditions. Because blueberries are well loved by birds, too, the family uses smartnet strung between hardwood posts to protect their crop.

A Pennsylvania heritage apple from the 1837, ‘Smokehouse’ produces firm fleshed apples that are ideal for cooking

Apples are equally as diverse in variety, age, and interplanting with top varieties being ‘Baldwin,’ ‘Enterprise,’ ‘Freedom,’ and ‘Rome,’ grafted upon M26 Geneva rootstock from 1976. The ‘Smokehouse’ variety with showy end-branch blossoming, is a historic Pennsylvania variety from 1837 that got its name from William Gibbons, who noticed the original tree growing beside his smokehouse. The tree produces a great cooking apple with firm flesh and skin green to red in color. It requires extra care, the Bernhardts said, to not prune away the fruit-producing spurs prematurely.

As for peaches, ‘White Lady,’ ‘Blushing Star,’ ‘John Boy,’ and ‘Flamin’ Fury’ reign supreme. ‘White Lady’ produces low acid fruit with a light red blush, that is well adapted to fluctuating spring conditions. ‘Flamin’ Fury’ varieties out of Michigan are popular for their resilience and long-growing period of 15 weeks. ‘John Boy’ produce large, firm fruits that are growing in popularity commercially for their resistance to bacterial spot.

In addition to their popular you-pick fruits, Indian Orchards also grows less known fruits like quinces, persimmons, Asian pears, and medlars, a winter fruit grown since Roman times that requires ‘bletting’ a process of controlled rotting to prime the fruit into delectable sweetness.

For those intrigued by historical brewing practices, the grounds are also home to a variety of the 300-year old spruce Benjamin Franklin was said to have used as a flavoring agent in his legendary beer, which has experienced a revival with contemporary brewers such as Yards’ Poor Richard Tavern Spruce.

To experience and support the delicious history of the ever-expanding Indian Orchards and its you-pick  and farm-stand offerings, visit their website at http://indianorchardsfarm.com.  For the first time in 2017, Indian Orchards is also offering Fruit Plus CSA shares featuring weekly boxes of fruit and more.

This POP Orchard Spotlight prepared 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.  

The World of Apples: A Tour of The USDA Apple Collection

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, PropagationTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Imagine if the apple section in your grocery store looked like this! Here is just a small fraction of fruit from the 2,000 types of trees present in the USDA ARS Geneva Apple Collection, almost all of it very tasty.
Imagine if the apple section in your grocery store looked like this! Here is just a small fraction of fruit from the 2,000 types of trees present in the USDA ARS Geneva Apple Collection, almost all of it very tasty.

Article and photos by Robyn Mello, POP Program Director. See an extensive photo selection from the tour below the article.

On Monday, I had the sheer joy and privilege of taking the day to visit what is likely the most unique display of Malus (apple) trees in the country, a dream nearly two years in the making. The USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Geneva, NY office is housed within a large office complex alongside the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and Cornell University Cooperative Extension. Just around the corner from the offices is McCarthy Farm, home of the USDA ARS Outdoor Apple Collection. AKA Apple Heaven.

What is The USDA ARS Apple Collection?

What makes this government apple collection the most unique? It’s a hub for genetic preservation, not a commercial orchard or proprietary plant-breeding farm. It’s focused on keeping alive all the different species within the Malus genus and hundreds of cultivars within the grocery store-ready Malus domestica species. Even the most diverse apple orchards working to preserve heirloom apples or those working to breed new types of apples are most often working with Malus domestica (domesticated apple) alone. Commercial orchards are working with cultivars or varieties. ARS Geneva has 53 species.

A vastly underfunded and understaffed program, ARS Geneva only has a handful of researchers. For example, there’s only one researcher in the whole country dedicated to developing new apple rootstocks! However, C. Thomas Chao, the collection’s Horticulturist and Curator, was kind enough to stand outside in the cold with me for nearly an hour answering my questions.

After that, he allowed me free reign to stay in the orchard and taste any fruit I wanted until the gates were closed! [Envision me, a proverbial kid in a candy store, hiding my glee at this news.] They’re not interested in or able to compete with commercial growers or get involved in Intellectual Property disputes around breeding the newest and best apple cultivar, so there was no secrecy involved. In fact, nearly all of the collection’s material can be requested and received in the form of grafting material from the ARS Apple Collection Catalog for free! They want people to know about and use this material.

Thomas explained there are nearly 8,000 accessions (items) in the collection, about 1,500 of them grown from wild seed around the world and the rest from plant tissue grafted on dwarfing or semi-dwarfing Malus rootstock. 2,000 varieties are present. Thomas said, “We’re the only ones in the country focused on the wild stuff,” probably because “nothing wild will ever be turned into a commercial variety.” The crops are sprayed according to Cornell Cooperative Extension recommendations, but of course, sometimes, trees die. Fortunately, there is a liquid nitrogen cryo-backup system in Fort Collins, Colorado for almost every specimen in the Permanent Collection to ensure things aren’t lost. A friend of mine, Christopher Richards, has a lot to do with the research and maintenance of that collection. He was in the mountains in China doing wild apple research just this past week. I have a really awesome job, but if I didn’t, I’d surely be working to get the proper education to work alongside Chris or Thomas!

Apples most people are familiar with are clones of mother trees found or bred for tasty fruit and grafted onto rootstock with preferable growing qualities (see our earlier blog post about grafting for more explanation). Just as inbreeding with animal species or senescence in gourmet mushroom farming, the reliance on a limited number of monocropped cultivars of apples can ultimately result in weaker specimens, more pest and disease problems, and less tasty and nutrient-rich food. If Malus domestica cultivars begin to fail, rootstocks are attacked by new or stronger pests, or climate change continues to threaten currently-accepted growing conditions, the ARS Geneva genetic databank will allow farmers and scientists to go back to the drawing board.

What are the apples like?

My time in the orchard was cut short due to 11 hours of round trip driving, very cold temperatures, and an afternoon rainstorm, so I was really only able to view the site’s Core Collection (pun hopefully intended) and a row of its wild seed-grown trees. The Core Collection is 3 rows of 258 accessions of apples, including 40 species that represent the maximum genetic diversity of the whole collection. It’s the place researchers start their work, and once they narrow down their search, they may move into a more specific area of species or hybrids within the larger 2,000 accession orchard. As a very amateur researcher, the best I could do is use my eyes and mouth to decide where I want to focus my citizen science research.

Each tree is well-labeled with the species, cultivar name, PI (Plant Identification) number, and GMAL (Geneva Malus) number. PI relates to the number in GRIN Global, the USDA’s national database and Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN). GMAL is the local number for The ARS Geneva Catalog, necessary because not all specimens are yet part of the GRIN collection. These numbers are how one can find the specimens they’d like to request from the catalog.

Thomas told me the best time to come is in mid-to-late September, but there were still tons of trees loaded with fruit. Since it’s not a production orchard, no one is harvesting the fruit. Rather, it just falls to the ground when it ripens and is left to rot. Seeing the ground below productive apple trees is really a sight to behold.

Because this isn't a production orchard, all the fruit falls to the ground, creating a rainbow of fruit.
Because this isn’t a production orchard, all the fruit falls to the ground, creating a rainbow of fruit.

The orchard in the sunshine reflected a full palette of colors ranging dark brown, lime green, magenta, canary yellow, cadmium red, burgundy, orange, and baby pink in innumerable combinations and patterns. Their flesh ranged from bright white to pink to yellow to beet red. Some of the fruits were soft with age, others were surprisingly waxy, and others covered in a soft fuzz. They were round, oval, the size of a dime or the size of a grapefruit and everything in between. Flesh textures were crisp, soft, grainy, crunchy, mealy, and starchy. Some were like eating a spoonful of table sugar; some so bitter and astringent that they left a film in my mouth akin to eating an underripe American persimmon; some with such a note of perfume they were hard to eat; some so sour they made my cheeks hurt; but many were just the right combination of sweet-tart complexity.

Bark colors were brown, gray, orange. Leaves were different shapes and sizes–some more like hawthorn than apple–and had vivid orange-red fall colors. The cultivar “Hordapfel” had large green leaves with beautiful purple veins. The fruits even rot differently according to their composition–some just juicing away to nothing, others leaving dessicated fruit mummies.

I tasted probably 100 different apples from at least 24 species. It didn’t take long to realize that their flavor and texture could be pretty regularly categorized according to color and size. My winners of the day were Malus domestica cultivars with orange-hues in their skin and flesh in the yellow spectrum, including names like “Belle de Boskoop”, “Calville Blanc”, and “Orleans Reinette”; as well as smaller fruits with green and pink hues in their skin and white or pink flesh such as “Lady” (a 2,000 year-old cultivar) and “Lady Williams”. The “Liberty” cultivar, which we often plant in our POP partner orchards due to its pest and disease resistance, is definitely one of the tastiest and considered one of the highest in phytonutrients.

Malus sieversii is a species native to Kazakhstan which is believed to be the primary ancestor of most cultivars of orchard apple (Malus domestica), and it is in danger of extinction. Keeping these specimens alive on dwarf and their own rootstocks is very important to this collection and the future of food. Two very late varieties still with fruit on them, KAZ 96 09-02 and KAZ 96 09-02, were pretty tasty, and lots of other large crabapples from various species were deliciously sour as well. If you have a good bit of outdoor space and patience, you can write to C. Thomas Chao requesting a Malus sieversii seed packet from their open-pollinated block, and he’ll send you 25 seeds and instructions for stratification and germination. Beware, however, that they could end up anywhere between 10’ and 50’ tall!

Malus sikkimensis had tiny, transluscent, red-brown fruit. Malus coronaria had waxy green fruit with orange leaves. Malus florentina had clusters of small fruit with hawthorn-like leaves. Malus fusca had some of my favorite crabapple flavor with large clusters of small, oblong, green-brown fruits. Malus bhutanica had gorgeous small magenta fruits, but they were the worst for astringency. Other Malus domestica cultivars I particularly liked were “Smokehouse”, “Snow” (like Snow White?), “Cox’s Orange Pippin”. “M25”, a very common rootstock variety, also had really good fruit. I got to taste very common cultivars like “Delicious”, “Golden Delicious”, “Fuji”, and “Granny Smith” and I was largely unimpressed compared to the lesser-known cultivars. I found that the fruits with dark red/burgundy skin and bright white flesh had some of the most simple, sucrose flavors.

Next year, I’ll prepare to visit for longer and take better notes on cultivars and species for personal and POP nursery purposes. This whirlwind one-day adventure was well worth it!

Dreams do come true!
Dreams do come true!

How can you help with this work?

    • Request new varieties of apples in your grocery stores. There are many cultivars grown in the United States, but very few of the many thousands known are grown commercially on a large-scale.
    • Learn to graft, perhaps at an upcoming POP Grafting Workshop! Then, request plant tissue from the ARS Apple Catalog or GRIN Global Database, grow your own fruit, and feed your neighbors! Orders are due in by January 10, 2017 for next season’s tissue requests.
    • Write to your Congressperson and demand that more of our taxpayer dollars be put towards funding crucial non-commercial plant preservation work. The work of the USDA ARS is important to the livelihoods of farm owners and laborers, consumer wallets and diets, our national security, and the survival of several global ecosystems.
    • Become a POP Liaison and learn to assist in caring for apple trees (and over 150 other species of edible and medicinal plants) at one of our 50+ community orchards spread throughout Philadelphia!
    • Get involved with local seedsavers groups or the Seedsavers’ Exchange out of Chicago to ensure the upkeep of agricultural biodiversity.
    • Visit and buy apples from a local heritage apple orchard like Northstar Orchard in Cochranville, PA. You can find a map and listing of other local orchards featuring a wide array of apples (and even search by cultivar) at orangepippin.com
    • Try not to demonize farmers who grow conventionally, but become educated and encourage your local growers to become organic and/or low-spray. It’s extremely challenging–but not impossible–to grow apples organically in our region and climate, due to regularly humid conditions and the fact that almost everyone is reliant on chemicals, making organic and low-spray orchards beacons of hope for pests. Try to find ways to encourage organic growing practices through food policy work, voting with your wallet (buy organic), and volunteering at a local orchard.
    • Take a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) to learn how working with the landscape and introducing a greater diversity of species can improve yields and lessen problems. I’m working to develop a Philly-based PDC for 2017, so stay tuned!

I love all creatures, all plants, and all fruit trees. I definitely could not pick a favorite. But there’s something very special about the apple, physically and symbolically. As a genus, it relates to this country’s history, nutritional evolution (or devolution), the development of the agricultural economy, globalization, international development, environmental conservation, technological innovation, climate change, and current political and social trends related to our food system. Our world can easily be viewed through an apple lens. Though many of us probably eat more apples than other fruits, don’t take their abundance in a grocery store for granted. Appreciate your fruit and food-growers, and become a more conscious consumer!

Photos (More Resources Below)

The first apple we sampled had deep red flesh and would make a wonderful pink cider. The fruit and leaves of this tree were high in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant commonly found in blueberries.
The first apple we sampled had deep red flesh and would make a wonderful pink cider. The fruit and leaves of this tree were high in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant commonly found in blueberries.
Some wild apples grow along the ground with a serious weeping habit.
Some wild apples grow along the ground with a serious weeping habit.
A wild Malus toringa leaf-shape
A wild Malus toringa leaf-shape
A view of the taller, more forested-feeling wild specimen area.
A view of the taller, more forested-feeling wild specimen area.
Some of the seed-grown wild specimens had very different leafing patterns than our commonly viewed apple leaves.
Some of the seed-grown wild specimens had very different leafing patterns than our commonly viewed apple leaves.
Our tour was cut short by a rainstorm.
Our tour was cut short by a rainstorm.
The hybrid cultivar "Ottawa 11" was abundant and beautiful.
The hybrid cultivar “Ottawa 11” was abundant and beautiful.


"Hordapfel" cultivar had beautiful and large purple-veined leaves.
“Hordapfel” cultivar had beautiful and large purple-veined leaves.
Malus hybrid "Eleyi" with pink flesh
Malus hybrid “Eleyi” with pink flesh
Lady Williams cultivar
Lady Williams cultivar

img_0099 img_0098

The "Belle de Boskoop" cultivar was huge and delicious!
The “Belle de Boskoop” cultivar was huge and delicious!
Malus x robusta "Korea"
Malus x robusta “Korea”
Malus x hartwigii
Malus x hartwigii
Malus fusca - Oregon or Pacific crabapple
Malus fusca – Oregon or Pacific crabapple
Malus bhutanica aka Malus toringoides - cut-leaf crabapple - is native to China and has extremely tannic, astringent qualities similar to the effect of eating an underripe American persimmon.
Malus bhutanica aka Malus toringoides – cut-leaf crabapple – is native to China and has extremely tannic, astringent qualities similar to the effect of eating an underripe American persimmon.
Malus hupuhensis - Tea crabapple - The different colors of bark in the orchard are also stunning!
Malus hupuhensis – Tea crabapple – The different colors of bark in the orchard are also stunning!
Malus ioensis "Bechtel Crab" - Prairie crabapple
Malus ioensis “Bechtel Crab” – Prairie crabapple
Malus ioensis "Texana" - Texas crabapple
Malus ioensis “Texana” – Texas crabapple
Malus florentina - Hawthorn-leaf or Florentine crabapple
Malus florentina – Hawthorn-leaf or Florentine crabapple
Malus coronaria - Sweet crabapple
Malus coronaria – Sweet crabapple

imag0713 imag0709 imag0706 imag0703 imag0699 img_0085 img_0084


The orchard in all its glory
The orchard in all its glory
The Calville Blanc cultivar, with yellow skin and flesh, was one of the first and best apples I sampled.
The Calville Blanc cultivar, with yellow skin and flesh, was one of the first and best apples I sampled.
The orange-skinned domestic cultivars were consistently delicious!
The orange-skinned domestic cultivars were consistently delicious!

img_0080 img_0079 imag0664

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.


Some Disease Resistant Apple Cultivars

The ReZista Collection


Crimson Crisp



Pixie Crunch




Organic apple production websites

Michael Phillips’ Holistic Orcharding Site – http://www.groworganicapples.com/

Organic Apple books – http://www.groworganicapples.com/organic-orchard-books/





Sources of Knowledge and Heritage/Resistant Apple Varieties

Lee Calhoun – Southern Heritage Apple Collection

John Bunker – Super Chilly Farm and FedCo Trees, Maine

Oregon Heritage Farm

North Star Orchard – PA

Orange Pippin – England Database, maybe available in USDA Collection

Susan Brown, Apple Breeding Program, Cornell – https://hort.cals.cornell.edu/people/susan-brown

Seedsavers Exchange – http://www.seedsavers.org/

University of Minnesota Apple Varieties – http://mnhardy.umn.edu/varieties/fruit/apples

Washington State University Apple Breeding – http://dialogue.tfrec.wsu.edu/breed/

USDA And Global Fruit Research Resources

ARS Geneva website – https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/geneva-ny/plant-genetic-resources-research/

Google Scholar (for USDA Research articles) – https://scholar.google.com/

USDA Plant Collection Database – GRIN Global – http://www.grin-global.org/

ARS Geneva Apple Collection Catalog – https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80600500/ClonalCatalogs/2016/MCatalog16.pdf

(Best to search by PI number)

Apple Rootstock Breeding Program – https://www.ars.usda.gov/northeast-area/geneva-ny/plant-genetic-resources-research/docs/national-apple-rootstock-breeding-program/

Global Fruit News from Yentzen Group – http://www.freshfruitportal.com/

Good Fruit Grower Magazine – http://www.goodfruit.com/



Edible Perennial Plant Propagation I: Stratification and Starting From Seed

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Plants, PropagationTags , , , , , , , ,

By Bridget Downey, 2016 POP Intern, Rachel Baltuch, 2015 POP Intern, and Robyn Mello, POP Program Director

Hello, world!
Hello, world!

Each plant species has different conditions in which they sprout and thrive. POP focuses on perennial edibles and herbs–those which survive winters and continue producing for several years or decades. The most common perennial propagation methods are through cuttings, grafting, and division (forthcoming blog posts in this series), but the parent plants we take from all started from seed at some point. While there is a lot of information online about starting perennial flowers from seed, there isn’t a whole lot of focus on starting perennials for human consumption.

It’s important to know how to start plants from seed to increase genetic diversity and to grow strong plants adapted to specific environments. Knowledge of starting from seed can even contribute to increasing food access–because seeds from one plant are so abundant; very small for storing, saving, and sharing; and often much less expensive than seedlings or saplings to acquire. If you know how to grow, you’re one step closer to food independence, and, I assure you, you’ll start seeing seeds worth saving and experimenting with everywhere.

How do we ensure the health of each seed we start? Here we will look at how to start a variety of perennials–peaches/apricots, apples, persimmons, strawberries, blueberries, oregano, and lavender–from seed:

All of the plants listed above are perennial plants, which means they continue to grow year after year, reblooming each spring.  Most perennial seeds need to go through a period of cold stratification, mimicking what they would go through in the winter, after falling from parent plants, being buried in fall leaves and by animals, then enduring winter frost and freeze, all leading up to healthy germination in the springtime. Stratification, by definition, is the process of treating stored or collected seed prior to sowing to simulate natural winter conditions that a seed must endure before germination.  Without this cold and wet time seeds will not germinate at all and stay asleep within their shells.  There are six types of cold moist stratification to choose from: cold water soaking, refrigeration, fall planting, winter/solstice sowing, outdoor treatment, and snow planting.  You can learn more about these type of stratification at http://www.alchemy-works.com/fall_planting.html .

Refrigerator stratification
Refrigerator stratification

For now we will focus mainly on refrigerator stratification.  First you will need a medium for your seeds which could be: peat, sand, finished compost, or paper towels. I prefer to use organic materials like peat or compost and it is most important that you have a fine grained soil, so there are no big chunks disrupting the seeds. To prepare the soil, it will need to be moist but not soaked. Next, make sure your seeds are clean and mix the medium and the seeds together, the ratio of soil to seed can be about 3:1.  If you choose to use paper towels, give the seeds each a few inches all around.  To store your prepared mixes, place into an airtight vessel like a glass container or plastic freezer bag. This will go into the refrigerator or freezer.  Each plant does best at different temperatures and has a different germination time. We will review this with a few plants more thoroughly below.

Apricot kernel and hull
Apricot kernel and hull

Peach and apricot seeds tend to produce trees which are very similar to their parent tree and bear similar fruit. Although commercial orchards plant grafted peach and apricot trees, a seedling tree is a fine option for a yard or community garden orchard. When choosing your peach pits, pick fully ripe fruit that you enjoy from a local orchard (or POP community orchard) later in the peach season, as those will germinate better. Clean the pit with a brush in clear water and let it dry for a few days on your counter; it will now be easier to open the hard outer shell to find the seed inside of it. You can use a vise, a nut cracker, or as a last resort, a hammer. Please be careful not to let anyone eat this seed, as it contains a small amount of amygdalin which converts to toxic cyanide when consumed. The pit might also naturally crack open for you.

Keep your peach/apricot seeds in a closed container in your refrigerator for at least 8 weeks. About 4 months before the last frost date (mid-April in Philly), you will want to start the cold, moist stratification process. Soak the seeds overnight in room temperature water and then place them in a jar filled with slightly moist potting soil, which you will store in your refrigerator. The idea is to keep them cool and moist, but not moldy. You should start to see sprouting between one and three months, depending on the variety of peach. When you see these thick, white rootlets, they are ready to plant. However, the best time to plant is about a month before last frost. If sprouting occurs before this date, you may keep them in the refrigerator until the proper time.

Apple Seeds
Apple seeds

Apple seeds need to be kept between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit for 70-80 days, and they do best between 40-41 degrees. They can be started like peaches and apricots above. Every apple started from seed will yield a completely different offspring than its parent plant, but starting apple seeds for rootstock to graft known varieties onto or growing out many apple saplings to find new cultivars are both very worthy causes. For a bit more on the subject of growing apples from seed, read up on Mark Shepard’s apple growing.

NOTE: All apples varieties are grafted, not grown from seed.  A seedling apple tree, even from the tastiest apple, will only rarely produce a tree with edible fruit.  Seedlings grown out and used as rootstock will lack any dwarfing quality and grow to 30 feet or more, an inconvenient size for harvesting and care for most growers, especially in urban environments.  

Persimmon seeds need to be kept between 35-40 degrees for 2-3 months. Check your seeds frequently to watch for mold or drying out.

NOTE: All persimmon varieties are grafted.  Seedling persimmons may or may not have edible quality fruit.  In the case of American persimmons, trees are male or female and both will need to be present for any fruit production.

Blueberry seeds do best between 60 and 70 degrees fahrenheit, don’t necessarily require any refrigeration, and do well started in the winter or spring indoors.  Plant the seeds about one inch deep in a shallow tray of finely ground sphagnum moss and spray with water to keep the soil moist. This process will take between 2-3 months for the blueberry seeds to germinate.  

NOTE: Blueberries are commonly propagated through cuttings and quality of named fruit varieties may be lost when propagated by seed.  

Strawberry seeds
Strawberry seeds

Strawberry seeds do best at below freezing temperatures (between 10-20 degrees F), so instead of refrigeration you can put your strawberry seeds in the freezer for 2 to 4 weeks and then let them thaw out at room temperature, before planting.

NOTE: Strawberries naturally self-propagate through runners and quality of named fruit varieties may be lost when propagated by seed.

Oregano seeds, similar to blueberries, like to grow in sphagnum moss.  Wet the moss completely, squeeze out the excess water, then mix in seeds. Keep seeds in the refrigerator between 35-45 degrees fahrenheit for one week.  

NOTE: Oregano is commonly propagated through stem cuttings. Growing from seed may result in different characteristics from the parent plant if not collected from controlled conditions.

Lavender seeds germinate best when kept in the refrigerator at 40 degrees for 4-5 weeks.  Then, leave them to thaw out at room temperature for a couple of days. When planted, they do best between 75 and 80 degrees during the day and about 55 degrees at night.  

NOTE: Lavender may also be propagated through cuttings, layering, or division.  Growing from seed may result in different characteristics from the parent plant if not collected from controlled conditions.

While your seeds go through the stratification process, be sure to check on them frequently to make sure they do not mold or dry out. If they seem dry, add a little water and mix well. Remember to be patient and gentle with your seeds. Perennial plants generally take a much longer time to sprout and break through the soil than annuals, especially compared to fast-germinating plants like arugula and brassicas. More on germination time, potting mixes, and seedling/sapling care in future posts! Happy planting!

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.


[All photos are labeled for noncommercial reuse.]


Orchard-themed Holiday Gift Idea: Easy Apple Pie Filling

Posted on Categories Blog, Canning, Cooking & Preservation, HomeTags , , ,

Post prepared by POP Education Committee Member, Karen Stark, GMO Free PA.

Great for gifts!

I love apple season–the sight of reddening fruit hanging heavy from trees as the leaves change; the first bite of a tart, crisp apple picked straight from a tree; apple-cider and apple cider donuts; and all of the apple-themed recipes. Extend the autumnal warmth a bit longer and make the busy holiday season a bit easier with this simple apple pie filling–great for a gift or for home food preservation!

Pick your apples from a local orchard like Linvilla, buy your apples from a local farmers market, an establishment geared towards local food like Fair Food Farmstand or Philly FoodWorks, or volunteer at a POPHarvest apple gleaning event next season! Some of the best apples for baking are Goldrush, Newtown Pippin, and Winesap.

Store them in quart jars (for gifts or pantry storage) or a freezer bag (much easier for self use).

Pam’s Easy Pie Filling

(Fills 12 quarts)


36 medium apples (3 per quart)

4 1/2 cups organic cane sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup arrowroot powder (or quick tapioca)

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

10 cups water

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix sugar, cinnamon, salt, arrowroot powder, nutmeg, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer and stir until thickened.

Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and stir.


Pack sliced apples in jars and add 1 1/2 cups of the mixture. Make sure you have 1/2” gap at the top of the jar. Give a 20 minute water bath. Visit other POP posts about canning or The Ball Jar Website for great tips.

Alternative storage: In a 1-quart freezer bag, place three sliced apples, add cooled mixture (a too-hot mixture may melt plastic or leach chemicals into your food), seal bag, and lay in the freezer.

A selection of the many apple cultivars planted in POP’s community orchards and picked at POPHarvest events:

Liberty – Eat Fresh (winner of children’s taste-tests this summer over other store-bought conventional and organic apple varieties!)

Goldrush – Eat Fresh, Cooking, Juice, Hard Cider

Honeycrisp – Eat fresh

Newtown Pippin – Cooking, Juice, Hard Cider

Winesap – Eat fresh, Cooking, Juice

Northstar Orchard in the Philadelphia area grows an astonishing 353 varieties of apples, mostly heirloom and antique. Visit their variety page for more information.

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.

Fall Harvest Timing and Equipment

Posted on Categories Blog, Harvesting, Home, PlantsTags , , , , , ,
After years of cultivation and year-round attention to orchard maintenance, it may finally be time to harvest from your fruit trees! It is often quite simple to tell when fruits are ready, as ripe fruits are well-colored and are easily plucked off the spur, with little resistance.  
The ground color, or the color of the fruit’s skin disregarding any red areas, is a good way to determine whether or not the fruit is ready to be harvested. However, if you have no experience harvesting, or if you have some unfamiliar fruits in your space, have no fear! Below is a guide, and you can always contact us or send us photos with questions.
Remember to track total yield of your harvests for POP’s annual end-of-season survey! If you need a POP waterproof orchard notebook or assistance in estimating poundage, let us know.  
If you ever find that you have excess harvest, please contact michael@phillyorchards.org to set up a POPHarvest community gleaning date so that nothing goes to waste!**
As always, one of the best ways to determine whether or not a fruit is ripe is by conducting a taste test. When a fruit appears to be ripe, and separates easily from the spur, try a bite of it to see how it tastes.
European Pears
Inline image 1
Pears are different from most other fruits in that they need to ripen off the tree before they’re ready to eat. European pears should be picked when the ground color of the fruit has turned pale green to slightly yellow. If you wait to pick them until they look ripe, the quality will be poor and they’ll quickly rot in storage. 
There are two types of European pears that are commonly grown in orchards: fall pears and winter pears. Fall pears can be kept at room temperature until ready to eat. Winter pears should be placed in cold storage (44º or below) for at least three weeks before they are ready to eat.

Fall pear varieties:
Bartlett, Moonglow, Harrow, Potomac, Shenandoah, Clapps Favorite, Orcas

Winter pear varieties:
Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Potomac

European pears that may ripen on the tree:
Seckel, Lincoln

Asian pears

​Asian pears are ready to pick and eat as soon as they look ripe on the tree (usually sometime late August through early September). Make sure there are no areas of green left in the ground color, and try a sample before harvesting them all. Some varieties appear more brown, some more yellow, and others a bit more green. If you’re worried about pest pressure, harvesting them a bit early may help, and allowing them to ripen off the tree will be just fine.


Apples come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes!  Once they are picked, apples stop ripening, and only begin to grow soft. Apples should be harvested when the ground color turns from green to yellow (August to early October depending on variety). With many varieties, a very full red color indicates the fruit is ripe, but reddish color doesn’t always indicate the fruit is ripe, so be sure to check the ground color. Yellow apples will show ripeness when all green is gone from their skin. Of course, there are also a few apple varieties (like Granny Smith) that stay green when ripe!  Various cultivars will have different skin coloring, so check the characteristics of your cultivars in order to help determine whether or not it is ready to be picked.


Additionally, watch for healthy apples that begin dropping to the ground, and make sure that your apple seeds are brown rather than white, indicating mature seeds. While unhealthy or damaged apples may fall from the tree anytime, healthy apples typically only begin falling when the fruit is ripe.


Jujubes, or Red Dates, are best harvested when they’re completely red-brown, and whether you harvest them crisp or soft is up to your eating or preservation preference. When still firm and smooth, the fruits have a crisp texture and are more pear-like in flavor. When the fruits begin wrinkling, their insides get soft and they take on more of a banana-like flavor.  Harvest time is generally September to early October. 
Pawpaws generally let you know they are ready to eat by falling off the tree, and taste best when harvested fresh from the ground (usually early to mid September). If you’re not in your orchard very often, giving a very light shake to your pawpaw tree will loosen any fruits that are nearly dropped and have them fall. They’ll have a greenish to yellow-brown skin and soft, custard-like, yellow-orange flesh. Bruising and browning of the skin is generally fine, as long as the flesh hasn’t turned brown. Pawpaws don’t have a very long shelf-life, so refrigerating or freezing flesh is recommended!
Inline image 1
One common problem with picking fruit is accessibility. Often fruits in trees are too high to pick from the ground. A fruit picker is a good investment to avoid this problem, as are sturdy A-frame ladders. Fruit pickers are poles with baskets on the end which allow you to pluck off high fruits and capture it in the basket.  POP has partnered with the West Philly Tool Library to make fruit pickers available to borrow from their collection! 

Wearable fruit picking bags or buckets allow you to quickly and efficiently store your fruit as it is being picked.

Purchase fruit picking bags/buckets:

This edition of POP TIPS prepared by POP intern Tina Kalakay and Orchard Director Robyn Mello.
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.  

Black Rot of Apples and Other Pome Fruits

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , ,

black rot

Black rot is a disease caused by the fungus, Botryosphaeria obtusa, which can attack the fruit, leaves, and bark of any tree in the pomaceous family (apples, pears, quinces, medlars, hawthorn). Pome fruits are fleshy fruits that do not have a central stone, but are cored with small seeds. Identifying black rot early is important in stopping the spread of the fungus, as it also can be parasitic to weak or dead wood in other plants in your garden. [Note: A different species of fungus which affects grapes during hot, humid weather is also known as black rot.]

About a week or two after petals from your apple blossoms fall, you should start checking your upper leaf surfaces for little purple spots, which is an early indicator of black rot. Eventually, the middle of these purple spots will turn yellow or brown in color, as well as dry out, while the margins of the spot will remain purple. The shape of the spot may become irregular and the middle of the spot also might form pycnidia, which are small, black pimple-like fruiting bodies of the fungus. A heavily affected leaf will usually drop off.

Tree branches or limbs might contain cankers, or sunken in areas of bark that are reddish brown in color. When sap continues to ooze from a pruning cut, one of the causes may be black rot gaining a foothold in the wood. These areas can expand each year and cause the affected limb to die. At any sign of rot or canker on the wood, a biological mudpack is a great way to combat organically, prior to the drastic measure of pruning a badly infected limb.

Black rot is found on your fruit in usually only one spot, which can differentiate black rot from bitter rot. The original spot on your fruit can be from any break of the skin of the fruit, including insect injuries. Starting as a brown spot, the rot will most likely grow and possibly turn black. You might also see more pycnidia on the fruit during this time. The fruit can form concentric rings around the spot and the fruit will begin to turn leathery. As the fruit decays, dries and shrivels up, it will eventually become completely mummified.

Treatment of black rot is a year round process, that begins with building healthy soil and good tree maintenance during the winter.Black rot can overwinter, which means that it will lay dormant in your tree, bark, limbs, cankers and mummified fruit and survive until the next fruiting season. You should always clear or prune dead or decaying wood, as well as fallen debris or dead fruit from around your tree.

The best way to rid your trees of black rot is to cut out the offending areas or cankers during the winter. Make sure to dispose of these properly, either by disposing in trash bags, burning, or burying them. It is also important to take away all mummified fruit, for the same reason of limiting the spread of fungal spores. Additionally, when your tree is fruiting, you should remove fruit that is damaged or invaded by insects, so that the fungus will not spread there. While you could try organically-approved fungicides, such as copper-based sprays or lime sulphur, these are still quite harsh and should be considered a last resort. The best method is to keep a sanitary tree environment all year round and consistently remove all sources of fungus spores.





The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to Maintaining a Healthy Garden and Yard the Earth-Friendly Way (Rodale Organic Gardening Books)

black rot (Botryosphaeria obtusa ) on apple (Malus domestica ) - 5368722


Image result for black rot apple trees


Severe black rot infection with dead bark on tree trunk.



This edition of POP Tips compiled by Education Intern, Rachel Baltuch.

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