POP Field Trip: Truelove Seeds

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All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of —indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

“What Have I Learned So Far”, Mary Oliver

Amirah and Owen

I had the pleasure of visiting Owen Taylor at his farm within the Mill Hollow Farm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Owen runs Truelove Seeds, a network of 20 farms that offers “rare, open pollinated, and culturally important vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.”  Among this network of seed growers are several POP orchard partner sites, including Sankofa Farm at Bartram’s Garden, Mill Creek Farm, and Pentridge Children’s Garden (meet the farmers).

Owen is a mentor to many and a welcoming host. Amirah, seed farming apprentice, and Meryl, visiting farmer from Western Massachusetts, were among the crowd on the day of my visit. The main task for the day was to plant various summer crops, so we spent the morning preparing beds.

Owen users a ‘No Till, Leave the Roots’ bed preparation technique, which is incredibly sensible and practical. (Note – he learned the technique from Bryan O’Hara at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, CT. Great podcast/interview on the technique here.) This technique prevents the ill effects so often associated with common tilling practices: the ‘solar murder’ of beneficial soil microbiota, destruction of established water and air channels, and the exposure of the basal weed seed bank to favorable growing conditions.  

He begins by weed-whacking or hoeing the tops of the annuals in the bed. He then solarizes the area, covering the bed in thick clear plastic. If the bed is in full sun and the temperature is above 85℉ then this method burns weeds to a crisp within a few hours. At a minimum, temperature must be above 75℉ and the bed must be in full sun. (Solarization warrants further reading: see here for a full review.) Owen then decapitates any remaining weeds with light hoeing, leaving the roots to decompose in the soil. After raking the weed heads aside, he caps the bed off with an inch of compost. In go the plants followed by a drip irrigation line (as necessary).

We chatted as we worked. From growing vegetable gardens as a child to working professionally with various food justice orgs in San Fran, NYC (with POP’s own Phil Forsyth), and Philadelphia, Owen has always been passionate about gardening and agriculture. Prior to founding Truelove Seeds, Owen managed William Woys Weaver’s seed collection, which boasts over 7000 different varieties.

Truelove Seeds believes in growing seeds to which one feels connected. They are less concerned with having a diverse catalog than they are for ‘returning plants to the descendants of the original cultivators.’ For Owen, this means growing crops native to Southern Italy and Ireland (e.g. Delaway Cabbage (Ireland), Lumper Potatoes (Ireland), Borlotto Beans (Italy), Lunga di Napoli Squash (Italy)). Amirah focuses on plants native to the African Diaspora (e.g. Egusi and Cushaw and Moruga Hill Rice (unfortunately, not in the Truelove Seeds catalog). Amirah is also very attached to various black-eyed peas, as well as the bambaras.

Owen has careful about declaring any type of plant his ‘speciality,’ but he did mention his talent for growing edible dahlias. Native to the Americas, dahlia tubers were a tasty food source for ancient Aztecs and are still eaten by their descendents at present. They are prepared much like more common tubers (e.g. potatoes) and cover an impressive range on the taste scale; certain varieties can even taste sweet like fruits! Don’t sleep on the beautiful flowers, though, which are also edible and have a wide range of taste profiles.

Here’s just a small sample of Truelove’s Dahlia offering:

Owen was also eager to show me his thriving beds of bambaras [Vigna subterranea], a plant native to West Africa. Bambaras grows its pod underground much like the peanut plant. And of course, you guessed it, the seeds within the pod are edible! Owen is particularly excited about further adapting his collection to our climate, as bambaras growing in North America are quite rare.

The Truelove Seeds network is immense, stretching as far west as California and as far north as Maine. Such a spread enables a diverse catalog of approximately 125 products. Their website is fantastic and very easy to use. You can ‘meet the farmers’ to get a better feel for the folks behind the products, including diverse rural and urban farms connected to different communities and ancestries!  If you’re more of a ‘brick and mortar’ person then you can buy Truelove Seeds at the following locations: Greensgrow Farms, Greensgrow West, Mariposa Food Co-Op, The Wooden Shoe in Philadelphia. Although >95% of the crops grown at Owen’s farm are for seed production, you can purchase Owen’s cut flowers from Snap Dragon Flowers in West Philadelphia.

It’s not too late to germinate and plant seeds in the Philly area! Just make sure you select plants for late season harvest, such as cabbages, winter spinach, and beans.

The Whole Gang (Chris, Amirah, Owen, Meryl)

This POP Blog Post prepared by 2019 POP Intern Chris Flounders.  

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.

Orchard Partner Stories: a look back at 2018

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Every year we ask our orchard partners to reflect on the season and to share stories with us about what the orchard provides for their community. Below are some of our favorite excerpts from 2018 celebrating the beauty, abundance, and power of city orchards to serve as an engaging place of discovery and connection.

Community youth harvesting apricots at the Norris Square Neighborhood Project orchard this spring.

Norris Square Neighborhood Project

This spring we had a fruit harvesting day with our Garden Kids program, an informal weekly program for neighborhood children ages 4-12. With berry baskets and a fruit picker donated by POP, 10 youth harvested service berries, mulberries, strawberries and apricots. The young people loved using the fruit picker to try and get the best apricots from the tree. Many of them hadn’t eaten these fruit or picked them fresh before. It was a sweet, lovely day!

— Marian Dalke

Richard Allen Prep Charter School

Students LOVE the fig trees! It is really beautiful to see the joy, empowerment, and team work the fig trees on site bring out in the students. Kids worked together to scout and harvest them, encouraged each other to taste, and spread the word throughout the school that figs were “lit.” Even hesitant tasters became fig advocates to others in the school. Those trees were the first plants they ran to in the garden and in their shade the bonds of community – shared nourishment, flourishing and fun – were reinforced.

Jenny Dunker

Sankofa Community Farm @ Bartram’s Garden

Youth from all over the local neighborhood know of the orchard and we often overhear them saying that they are going to head down later…(after the farmers are gone) to get their apples, pears, etc.  Although we are trying to limit the amount of picking without permission, we like when kids eat fruit from the trees. We have often used these teachable moments to talk about when food is ripe and to think about others when picking to ensure all can taste and try.

— Tyler Holmberg

Students and volunteers planting a spiral herb garden at Cramp Elementary School in North Philly this year.

FNC Learning Farm @ 8th & Poplar

We have three cherry trees that give us a TON of fruit. During the growing season, I have random neighborhood kids who will come after school and help me at the farm, or play in the garden, and those kids come during cherry season and spend afternoons climbing the tree and gorging themselves on fresh cherries. 

— Marta Lynch

One Art

This year we finally got figs! After years of watching and waiting, our patience finally paid off. We are reminded that we plant these trees not knowing if we will taste the harvest but having hope that someone will enjoy their fruits.

— Malaika Gilpin

Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House- Erie

Krishanta, a 10 year old patient from Trinidad, and her mom Kizzie have been staying with us for a long time (over 7 months).  Krishanta uses wheelchairs and other mobility devices but it didn’t stop her from being our garden elf. She loves strawberries and it became her job to harvest the berries for us when needed. And then she took on the raspberries when they came in season.  Soon she was helping volunteer groups with weeding and tending the orchard and garden. She asked if we could plant peppers and more cilantro so we did! In fact, we planted a salsa garden (tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro) in with the herbs. I was lucky enough to spend some time with her in the garden  I would let her smell the different herbs and explain their uses. Together we would harvest the herbs to put in the kitchen for other families and our guest chefs to use.  

-Carolann Costa

Krishanta was one of many this year to appreciate the bounty of orchard plantings at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House @ Erie.

Wyck Historic House

POP is willing, able and enthusiastic about interfacing with any single segment of Wyck’s constituents–whether corporate volunteer groups during our planting events, or high school job trainees during maintenance events, or behind the scenes with me, essentially empowering me to be informed and knowledgeable enough to train others and truly pay the orchard concept forward. They are a remarkable and generous and truly collaborative organization.

— Martha Keen

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission Farm

Overcomer Eric from the recovery program is one of the dedicated volunteers for our farm/orchard. We have been able to help him to gain more interest in farming, growing and harvesting fruits. Now he makes sure the farm is doing fine even when we are not there working. His favorite fruit is the figs that he picked himself from our tree.

 Meei Ling Ng

St. Bernard Community Garden

Many gardeners expressed in one way or another that our orchard — particularly our raspberries, which persisted well into fall — enhanced their experience of being in the garden this year: through the joy of having fresh-picked fruit to snack on during work days, or providing a rewarding activity for kids in harvesting fruit during their visits, or simply through enjoying the beauty of our young orchard plants and food forest throughout the season.

 TJ Hunt

The Casa del Carmen orchard in North Philly demonstrated multi-generational involvement this year, including a spring strawberry planting with youth.

Casa del Carmen

Casa del Carmen values our neighbors in Hunting Park and applauds the older adults that volunteer to care for the orchard. One senior in particular, a Puerto Rican Evacuee whose home and garden was washed away during Hurricane Maria, visits daily to ensure the health of the orchard. He says that tending the garden is recreational and keeps him active and healthy.

— Camille Crane

Hunting Park Community Garden

During this past summer we were hosting the Lenfest Center’s summer camp garden club. On their first visit to work in their plot, most seemed excited to be at the garden. Ten minutes into their visit one camper wanted to go back to the center which is a 15 to 20 minute walk out of the park. She was not a fan of the bugs and heat that particular day but we were able to convince her to stay and not make the group leave. We adjusted the order of activities and decided to go first to taste the fruit in the orchard. She was very excited and wanted to take some home to have her grandmother bake a pie. Her next visit there was no hesitation to join in the scavenger hunt with the group.

— Michael Wilcox

Philadelphia Montessori Charter School

Each day our students roam the garden discovering insects, birds, and an occasional fruit. Our orchard is still young and doesn’t produce much yet, but the trees provide shade and for the first time we found Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars in the garden. We are beginning to develop an ecosystem.

 Letitia C Biddle

Pentridge Children’s Garden

The orchard is generally the highlight of the garden for the children who visit. Whether it is excitement at finding the sweetest apples, or getting lost in the raspberry bushes, the kids love it.

— Owen Taylor

Planting day with volunteers at the Union Baptist Church Garden of Eden in South Philly.

Union Baptist Church Garden of Eden

We planted fruit trees and berry plants with POP this year. Our raspberry plants already have been producing large juicy berries. We have been harvesting the berries to share with our soup kitchen guests, church members, garden volunteers and neighbors. Some of the raspberry plants have grown out of the fence and people walking by pick the fruits. Some are worried about people picking them outside but our answer is “why not, that is the point of sharing and tasting the fruits we have grown”. One time a mother with kids walked by and were admiring the berries from the outside.  We asked them to come in and gave them a tour and shared the berries. If we are near the plants, we will pick the berries and pass them over the fence for people who are curious about the fruits and our orchard. The orchard connected us to our community in many ways. Thank you POP for all you do and for our wonderful collaboration.

— Meei Ling Ng

Penn Alexander

Our orchard provides beauty and educational opportunities for our school community. We love spending time outdoors learning from nature!

— Stephanie Kearney

Overbrook School for the Blind

Our school orchard provides beauty, a space for learning, and a source for nutritious food that is utilized by students and staff alike.  I think POP has been nothing but exceptional in providing sensory based lessons for students with visual impairment and multiple disabilities that incorporate tactual objects and promote student engagement.”

-Lee Stough

POP developed a series of sensory-based lesson plans this year in partnership with the Overbrook School for the Blind.

Weavers Way Farms- Mort Brooks & Henry Got Crops

We had a particularly good paw paw season. There were so many staff, volunteers and customers who had never had one before and were just floored by the taste. This is the second season we have had paw paws to sell at our farm market and people were already contacting up in the spring asking us when they could come and purchase them again this year. I have witnessed first hand the impact this one fruit has had on our immediate community, and it is creating quite the following of excited fans!

— Nina Berryman 

Pastorius Community Garden

This year our trees were still establishing and did not yet give fruit. It was a pleasure taking care of them throughout the season. Our berry bushes were the stars and produced a huge harvest. Our orchard is opened to the public, and the berries went super quick this year as and more people have discovered our little orchard in their neighborhood and feel comfortable harvesting.

— Vita Litvak


The abundant harvest of our cherry trees is a highlight of the year. Youth experience harvesting large amounts, process some into jam, and provide these things to a community that eagerly awaits.

Michael Muehlbauer 

Fairmount Park Horticulture Center Food Forest

This space has been especially valuable to the Master Gardener program for educational and volunteer opportunities.

— Michelle Lawson

A wide range of volunteer groups assisted in caring for the food forest at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center this year.

Kleinlife Community Center 

In the orchards third year, it appears to have matured in the last season — the space looks a little fuller, not quite producing fruits yet, but the trees are filling in more. Peaches were harvested this year, the persimmon trees look like they’ll resemble the tall bountiful neighborhood persimmon trees, which is exciting to me, because I want our NE neighbors to recognize that just like many of them devote their tiny lawns/yards to growing food vertically or with fruit trees, that we also see the value of using our space for food and fruit production. We are transforming our campus into an edible landscape, and the children are recognizing it and asking questions, which is all I could ask for.

— John Eskate

Jewish Farm School Garden

This year we had a rough season with our fig tree (especially compared to last season). A neighbor of ours stopped by to check in about the state of the fig tree. He shared that when he was growing up on the block, there were a ton of fruit trees lining the street. It was nice to hear how this orchard is a continuation of a history that is still alive for people.

— Nati Passow

Cloud 9 @ Guild House West

Our residents saw a lot of changes this year. But, having the orchard remain has meant a great deal to our long-time residents, especially those whose windows look out over the trees.

— Rania Campbell-Bussiere

Historic Fair Hill

Several neighbors stop by to ask when the figs and cherries will be ripe and if they can help with them. They love to know that these fruits grown in their neighborhood!

— Jean Warrington

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.

POP History 2016 & Volunteer Highlight: Angelina Conti

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“That’s what keeps me coming back: the Bartram Orchard and Sankofa Farm offer beauty, nourishment, self-determination and community now, but they also move thoughtfully and intentionally towards an uncertain future.”
-Angelina Conti, 2016 Golden Persimmon Volunteer

In honor of the Philadelphia Orchard Project’s 10th anniversary in 2017, we’re looking back at a different year in our history every month.  We’re also designating Golden Persimmon Awards for each year in recognition of the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers.

At POP’s first ever Juneberry Joy Week in 2016, POP celebrated this underappreciated and abundant city fruit with harvest events at 7 locations across the city!

Philadelphia Orchard Project History: 2016
In 2016, POP expanded our internship program and added a new Orchard Apprentice position.  We celebrated our first ever Juneberry Joy Week with harvest events at 7 locations across the city and value-added partnerships with local businesses.  POP held our first annual Orchard Dinner, a co-fundraiser with the Farm at Bartram’s Garden.  A new partnership with the West Philly Tool Library made orchard tools & equipment more accessible to our orchard partners and the public.  POPHarvest gleaned and distributed over 5000 pounds of fruit, largely through a new partnership with Linvilla Orchards.  Combined with 5000 pounds produced in POP orchards across the city in 2016, that’s over 10,000 pounds of fresh fruit!

POP ORCHARDS PLANTED in 2016: Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, Kleinlife Community Center, Monumental Baptist Church, Penn Alexander School, CHOP Karabots, Jewish Farm School


2016 Media Coverage: Philadelphia Citizen
2016 POP NEWSLETTERS: SummerWinter
2016 POP BOARD PRESIDENT: Aron Goldschneider

Between production at POP orchards and POPHarvest gleaning events, a total of over 10,000 pounds of fresh fruit was harvested in 2016!


Bartram’s Garden often feels like a green and lush oasis perched on the lower Schuylkill River, an almost-secret garden with clear views of Center City and reminders of its urban and industrial context all around.  Row homes and apartment buildings are visible from the orchard and a glance across the river reveals oil tanks and a natural gas facility. There are two freight lines that run near the property and their clanging and shrieking has underscored many an orchard volunteer day.

The juxtaposition of fruit trees and farm fields with fossil fuel industry and dense urban neighborhoods is one I cherish – it’s what this work is all about.

When volunteers at the orchard at Bartram’s Garden ask me what I do, besides coordinate volunteer days, they are often surprised when I say that I’m a digital learning specialist. Urban orchard care may seem to be a far cry from online learning, but I see them as contiguous. Both assume that human bodies and minds deserve accessible and meaningful nourishment and self-determination, and both build towards a future where that is more possible.

I connected with POP through the Master Gardeners program in 2014 and started to volunteer as the Bartram Orchard liaison that spring. I had missed the planting of the orchard and the founding of the Farm, in 2011 and 2012, and many of the fruit trees were young and not yet productive. Then and now, one of the primary tasks for volunteers is weeding around the base of the trees. That’s a fairly low-drama and repetitive task, but the setting couldn’t be more pleasant: the Bartram orchard is perched on a sunny hillside between the historic house, the Sankofa Community Farm on a former baseball diamond, and the community garden. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are happy to sit in the shade of fruit trees, their hands in the dirt, and weed for hours at a time.

2016 POP Golden Persimmon volunteer Angelina Conti has helped to supervise monthly work days at the Bartram’s Garden orchard since 2015!

I have continued to volunteer at the Bartram orchard largely because it, and the youth-powered farm it is attached to, are as loyal to this urban context and to current neighbors as to the historicity of the site. The intention with the orchard was not necessarily to plant trees that John Bartram himself would have grown in the 1700s  – though we do have some antique varieties – but to showcase all the weird and wonderful things that will grow in Philadelphia today. And it is quite a variety: Bartram Orchard alone has over 130 fruit and nut trees and more than 35 different species of fruit growing in the orchard and berry garden. This includes more supermarket-familiar fruits like apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries, but also jujubes, shipova, figs, persimmons, che fruit, medlars, and native species like juneberries, paw paws, and elderberries. Many of them are dwarf trees and (nearly) all of them do well in an urban setting.

We are lucky that the Philadelphia area offers a confluence of good soil and negotiable USDA zones that allow us to grow such a variety here. We’re less lucky that the extremities of climate change will mean unpredictable seasons for the foreseeable future – for generations. Facing a future like that makes orchard diversity even more important. We may lose the apricot crop due to a late frost one year (as we did in 2017) but have an abundant harvest with other crops. The growing happening at Bartram, like at all POP orchards, is designed to be replicable in backyards and gardens around the city, even as climate change shapes Philadelphia in new and scary ways.

That’s what keeps me coming back: the Bartram Orchard and Sankofa Farm offer beauty, nourishment, self-determination and community now, but they also move thoughtfully and intentionally towards an uncertain future.

That, and it is also a special privilege to witness someone’s first taste of a fresh fig!

Fresh figs for all!

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.

POP Fig Varieties and Introducing Megan Brookens: A Fellow Fig Lover!

Posted on Categories Blog, Harvesting, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, School Orchards & Curriculum, VolunteersTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

My name is Megan Brookens and I am the new Repair the World Fellow partnered with POP for the year! I’m working with our Education Director, Alyssa Schimmel, to develop lesson plans and activities to use at our school orchard sites. This season, I am excited to learn with and from the students at our orchards about topics they want to explore.

One of the first things I learned at POP is how much we love our fig trees. These lovely plants, of the Ficus carica species, are highly recommended for Philadelphia due to their bountiful harvest and low maintenance requirements, aside from some seasonal winterizing. There are many fig varieties featured throughout our different orchard partner sites and we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the most common ones, see descriptions below and linked here as a downloadable PDF. 

Stay tuned for more info on fig propagation and check out some previous POP blog posts linked below for more background and information on caring for your fig trees:

Fresh Figs for Cold Climates; 

Unwrapping Figs & Pomegranates – and Winter Dieback; 

A Volunteer Spotlight on Jeanette DiMeo, Fig propagator and donor


We love our fig trees here at POP! There are several species of edible figs that are part of the Ficus genus and are native to temperate regions of Asia and Turkey, where they have been cultivated since at least 5000 B.C. Today, they are an important fruit in many parts of the world including the Mediterranean and the United States. The Common Fig (Ficus carica) is the most cold hardy species of edible fig and the one we plant in Philadelphia; unlike other fig species, it is alsoo self-fertile and doesn’t require pollination to produce fruit.  Figs can be eaten fresh, dried, or even turned into a nice preserve. They are a good source of calcium, fiber, iron, copper, carbohydrates, potassium, and Vitamins A, E, and K.  There are many varieties of fig trees featured throughout our different orchard partner sites, but here is a quick guide to our most popular varieties. 

Celeste – a productive fruiter that produces medium-sized fruit with smooth, light brown to violet-colored skin and pastel pink flesh. This is a fairly cold-hardy variety and takes freezes better than other figs.

Historical Facts:  This is one of the most popular figs in our POP orchards, commonly grown in the Southeastern United States but widely adaptable. It is quick to fruit and after a harsh winter, it is able to regrow from the roots and produce fruit in the same year! 

Ripening and Harvest: Harvest from July-Late October when the fruit is soft and purplish-brown, perhaps with a little green, and bends at the neck. 

Flavor: Sweet and juicy with a rich honey-like flavor. It’s known as the “Sugar Fig” for a reason! 

Chicago Hardy – bears small to medium sized figs with a deep mahogany color and exhibits drought-tolerance once established. A very productive and cold hardy variety!

Historical Facts: Another one of our most popular figs featured in POP orchards, this variety originates from Sicily but was cultivated in Chicago.  It is easy to grow and even does well in containers – perfect for the backyard fruit grower. 

Specific Care Requirements: This is a cold-hardy variety and takes freezes better than other figs. It is also quick to fruit, allowing it to die back to the ground in a really harsh winter and then regrow from the roots and successfully bear fruit in the same year. A single established Chicago hardy fig can provide up to 100 lbs of fruit yearly! 

Ripening and Harvest: Harvest from August-Late October when the fruit is soft and medium-dark purple. The fruit is small to medium in size and has a reddish interior flesh.

Flavor: Sweet and rich 

Larchwood – A variety of unconfirmed origin that produces abundant medium to large tear-drop shaped figs that remain green when ripe, with a juicy red interior.

Historical Facts: POP Director Phil Forsyth propagated this variety from a yard on Larchwood Ave in West Philly – a local varietal!  In harsher winters, it does require some protection to ensure a good harvest.  

Ripening and Harvest: Harvest from August-early October when the fruit is soft and a lighter green in color.  

Flavor: One of the best tasting fig varieties we’ve come across, juicy and sweet.


Bartram’s Fig – A historic variety with attractive, deeply lobed leaves and producing large round figs that are yellow with a bit of purple when ripe.  

Historical Facts: This variety is featured at Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia. While the origins of this variety are unknown,  it has been cultivated on site for many decades! 

Ripening and Harvest: Harvest from August-Late October when the fruit is soft and light purplish-pink at base with green toward the stem. The fruit is medium to large in size.

Flavor: Sweet and tasty

Brooklyn White – also known as Naples White, this variety produces large, light lime-green skinned figs with light pink flesh and the flavor of honeyed strawberries. An unusual trait: the fruit can still ripen on the tree after dying back to the ground after a harsh winter!

Historical Facts:  Brooklyn has a high concentration of fig trees because of its long history of Italian immigrants bringing cuttings from the beginning of the 20th century until World War II. 

Ripening Period: Harvest from August- Early October when the fruit is soft and yellow-golden. The fruit is medium to large with a light pinkish-purple interior flesh. Crop from this tree ripens three weeks after the main crops begin on earliest cultivars. 

Flavor: Light with notes of honey and strawberry 

Source: Seattle Garden & Fruit Adventures

Takoma Violet – This new–to-be featured fig variety is known for its cold-hardiness and deep rich flavor and draws its origins from sanctuary city Takoma Park, MD. The fruit has a nice tight eye that is resistant to splitting and the plant itself is one of the most cold hardy varieites.

Historical Facts:  This variety was newly planted at POP partner sites Tilden Middle School and St Bernard Community Garden in Spring 2017.

Ripening Period: Harvest from August-October when the fruit is soft and dark blackish-purple. The fruit is small with a reddish interior flesh.

Flavor: Rich and berry-like





Brooklyn White


This POP Plant Feature 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.

POP CORE Recap & Orchard Care Through the Seasons

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Orchard Pests, POP Orchards, Soil Care, Sprays, Tree Care, Tree DiseasesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

POP kicked off its newest training program last Wednesday, March 8th at Bartram’s Garden called POPCORE: Community Orchardist Resilience Education. An endeavor to realize the potential and beauty of fully productive, well cared-for eco-orchards in every neighborhood, POPCORE seeks to encourage the self-sufficiency of our partners and connections between partners in close geographical proximity through group trainings and face-to-face sharing between partners. With increased knowledge, attention, and combined resources, the average community orchard has the potential to produce hundreds of pounds of varied produce per season in addition to being a safe, beautiful outdoor space for gathering and education.

POPCORE combines many elements of orchard stewardship, ecosystem design, and food uses that POP has learned over the past ten years,  synthesized in a 4-part series that can be taken as one-off classes or in pre-season series. Hosted back-to-back over four Wednesdays in March at Bartram’s historic garden, the course covers Pruning and Eco-orchard Seasons (March 8), Pest and Disease Management (March 15); Plants, Fungi, and What To Do With Them (March 22); and Permaculture and The Future of Philadelphia’s Food System (March 29).  Registration info here

The first class taught by POP Executive Director Phil Forsyth and Orchard Director Robyn Mello drew 21 participants, who came from a span of neighborhoods throughout the city to learn about orchard care through the seasons and the specifics of pruning fruit trees, berries & brambles, and fruiting vines, with a pre-class hands-on pruning demo hosted in Bartram’s Community Orchard.

For the health of your orchard, seasonally-appropriate care is important and POP wants you to succeed! Check out POP’s Resource Guide for PDF-downloadable handouts on topics covered during POPCORE’s first session, including orchard care by season (summarized below) a guide to pruning, and relevant POP blog posts linked below. 

Students learn techniques for wintertime pruning of fruiting shrubs in Awbury Arboretum’s food forest.


PRUNING. For best production and tree health, all common fruit trees regardless of age should be pruned during their dormant season every winter, ideally between late January and early March. The basic idea is to open the tree to more air and light.

Check out POP’s guide to Pruning Fruit Trees and  Pruning Bushes, Brambles, and Vines.  

REMOVE MUMMIFIED FRUIT. Any fruit left hanging on the tree is a potential source for disease spores. Pluck and remove any mummified fruit from the orchard during pruning.

SPRAY DORMANT OIL. Apply horticultural oil, neem oil, or vegetable oil at 4% dilution to smother overwintering eggs of insects including aphids and scales.

Check out POP’s guide to Dormant/Horticultural Oil Sprays. 

MAINTAIN ORCHARD EQUIPMENT. Clean and sharpen all orchard tools. Order orchard care supplies. For PHS City Harvest participants, check out a related training on Tool Care on Saturday March 25th from 10am-noon or visit POP Partner The West Philly Tool Library for information on tool rental and care. 

Orchard liaison Tony Dorman spreads compost during a spring workday at Philadelphia Montessori Charter School


APPLY MULCH/COMPOST. Spread chipped winter prunings, shredded leaves and/or compost.

Check out POP’s guide to Ramial Wood Chips and Weeding in Place.  

HOLISTIC ORCHARD SPRAYS. Holistic sprays are composed of compost tea, liquid fish/seaweed, neem oil, and/or effective microbes. For best tree health and resistant to disease, apply up to 4 times in the spring (after bud break, at first pink of flowers, after petal fall, and two weeks after petal fall). Depending on specific pest or disease problems, some orchardists might also consider other organic sprays including the ones listed below. 

Check out POP’s guides to orchard applications of:

TRAINING. New growth can be trained to better angles using clothespins, branch spreaders, or tying to weights.

THINNING. In late May or early June, young fruitlets on peaches, apples, pears and Asian pears, and some plums should be thinned by pinching off with fingers or pruner. Peaches should be thinned to 8” apart, apples and pears to 5”, and heavy-bearing plums to 5” on the tree. Also at this time, all fruit should be removed from any newly planted trees.

Check out POP’s guide on Thinning Fruit Trees. 

BAGGING FRUIT. Place ziplock, paper, or nylon bags around young fruit (especially apples) to protect them from some insect and disease challenges.  

Check out POP’s guide to Bagging Fruit.

Community members pick berries during Strawberry Mansion’s Strawberry Festival


HARVEST. Pick fruit as they ripen, spring through fall according to fruit type. Remove or compost any fallen fruit to reduce potential pests and disease. 

Check out POP’s guide to Summer Harvest Timing and Equipment and Late-Season Fruit Ripeners.

MONITOR. Observe orchard regularly throughout the year for pest and disease problems, identify and respond appropriately with trapping, removal, or possible applications of kaolin clay, neem oil, Bt, pyrethrin, etc.

EMERGENCY PRUNING. Remove diseased or damaged wood, root suckers, and watersprouts any time of year. Be sure to sterilize tools with alcohol or bleach solution between each cut. In some cases, additional structural pruning may be done in early summer to minimize regrowth, but avoid anything but emergency pruning after July.

For more information, check out this POP guide to emergency pruning. 

Executive Director Phil Forsyth brews a batch of compost tea to apply to orchard plantings


APPLY COMPOST. After most leaves have fallen, spread a layer of compost or spray compost tea. An annual soil test can reveal any other specific nutrients or amendments that should be added.

Check out POP’s guide to Autumn Composting. 

We hope this seasonal breakdown provides you with a solid overview to ready yourself for maintaining the health and productivity of your orchard. Hope to see you in a POP CORE class soon!
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.  

Building Living Soils with Biochar

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Soil CareTags , , , , , , , , , , ,


biochar hand
Biochar fresh from firing

This edition of POP Tips written by 2016 Orchard Apprentice Alkebu-lan Marcus and Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.

What if you could turn vegetative waste like twigs, wood chips, pruning clippings, and overwintered compost crops into a valuable, organic, soil-additive that promotes the growth and fertility of future orchard and agricultural plantings? You can!

Enter biochar, a highly purified and stable form of charcoal that carries with it a range of applications for increasing soil fertility through water and nutrient retention and positively impacting the environment through the sequestration of carbon and greenhouse emissions, reducing nitrogen leaching into groundwater reserves, and the adsorption of lead, nickel, cadmium and other heavy metals. Biochar is a true star!

Before we get into a how-to on home-scale biochar production, we’ll focus on a couple of the key applications for orchard growers including its positive impact on soil moisture and nutrient retention, and the support of mycorrhizal and microorganism development (reducing the long-term need for ongoing fertilizer, pest applications, and irrigation). These functions of biochar have huge measurable impact on orchards through many stages of growth, from positively impacting fruit yield and helping with the reactivation of mature sites, to ensuring stable root development of young, grafted trees and cuttings, and preventing fungal infections that may impact fruit-producing trees.

Dale Hendricks demonstrates the open pit method of biochar making
Dale Hendricks demonstrates the open pit method of biochar making

Though biochar is easy to acquire in the form of powder or chips from a number of suppliers, you can easily make your own with a few hours and some household recyclable materials, as outlined below. Some of the instructions below come from POP’s Biochar Workshop hosted last September 2016 with Dale Hendricks of Green Light Plants at Bartram’s Garden. You can read more about biochar along with FAQs from this local expert here.  Look out for future workshops on biochar and other topics in orchard management and care through our events page.  

History and Contemporary Fruit Growing Trials

The 2,000-year-old practice of transforming waste vegetation into fine-grained highly porous charcoal comes from a long history of soil management practices first examined in the Amazon Basin. Known as the ‘Secret of El Dorado’, dark, human-made soils bolstered by charcoal along with terra cotta shards, animal waste, and compost called terra preta (“dark earth”) were found to support food crops that would otherwise be challenged in the naturally occurring soils that were thin and poor in nutrient density (1).  

As in days of yore, the application of biochar to soils in contemporary studies  have resulted in bigger, healthier fruits, and nuts. A five-year trial conducted in Australia on apple trees found apples planted in biochar produced fruits that are up to 20 grams heavier than fruits from untreated trees, with no decrease in fruit firmness or sugar content (3). In a Costa Rican trial, biochar alone increased the fresh weight production of cacao fruits (pods) per tree and per hectare (3). The height and stem diameter of seedlings  increased after planting.

Biochars’ Chicken-Wire Structure and Impact on Water Retention

Electron microscope view of biochar and its structure

The key to biochar’s ability to hold water and nutrients comes from the process of  pyrolysis whereby organic matter is charred at high heat with limited oxygen creating a strong grapheme structure, a sheet of carbon rings with millions of micropores that join to look like chicken wire. In this form, it takes thousands of years to break down (6). After a good rain or watering, the passageways created by this grapheme structure hold water for plants sensitive to water stress and help protect soil nutrients from runoff. In one sandy loam soil, biochar increased water holding capacity by 23% (3). When applied to clay or compacted soils, it increases drainage and reduces standing water on soil surfaces, reducing the likelihood of fungal infections like powdery mildew and botrytis that can often affect stone and pome fruits.

Biochar can produce stronger transplants that can be moved to the field earlier and survive better as it makes water in the soil more available to plants for uptake and supports the development of adventitious roots. Biochar can also help to maintain vigor and productivity in mature and older orchards impacted by root aging and drier soils, while biochar soil improvement can make replanting more efficient as well (3).

Support of Microorganisms and Mycorrhizae

Biochar catalyzes mycorhyzal development

Either by supporting nutrients supplied directly or indirectly by improvements in soil quality, biochar can help influence the nutrient value of the soil through boosting microorganism and mycorrhizal fungi colonies.  Biochar absorbs humic acid which allows for a higher nutrient retention in turn enhancing the efficiency of fertilizers and help with leaching. One plant enhancing microorganism known as Trichoderma is boosted in soils amended with biochar, which helps increase defense mechanisms within the plant that prevent damage from insects, pests, and diseases. Increased resistance to pests and diseases combined with better use of nutrients and water can result in increased yields and early production (3)

The findings of Dr. Makato Ogawa, a Japanese scientist with 30 years of biochar research, suggests that biochar is the preferred habitat of mycorrhizal fungi as biochar serves as a storage bank of water and nutrients propelling fungi growth, and relatedly, that of plants–even in poor soils (6). As mycorrhizae and plant roots are in symbiotic relationship, with the plant feeding sugar from their root secretions to fungi and fungi offering water and nutrients to plants in return, Ogawa concluded that bits of biochar allow the hyphae to grow faster and further, a finding that supports plant and food forest vitality.

Making & Using Biochar

So, how does one go about using biochar at their site? Whether you choose to buy or make your own, Dale Hendricks recommends applying fresh biochar to gardens in the fall starting with 5% by volume at a beginning threshold up to a total of 15% (7), choosing either to mix it into soil mixtures or add 1-2” to top off raised garden beds as if it were compost.

Because biochar is so adsorbent and could compete with plant roots for available nutrients, Hendricks recommends inoculating biochar with an active ingredient like compost tea and allowing it to sit for 2-3 months to work its way into the biochar before using.

Making Biochar via A Top Lit Updraft Stove

Instructions and Photos by 2016 POP Orchard Apprentice Alkebu-lan Marcus; Video tutorial here.  

Things you’ll need:

  • Drill
  • Twine
  • Tape Measure
  • ½” drill bit
  • ¼” drill bit
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Quart size paint can
  • Progresso soup can
  • Tuna can
  • Can opener

photo 1 and 2

  1. First remove the bottom of your quart size paint can.
  2. Now use your ½” drill bit to drill 8 large holes in the bottom of the soup can and paint can. Use the twine to measure the circumference of the cans and divide by 8. Using your tape measure to mark where your holes will be.
  3. Using the same method as mentioned before, drill 16 small holes in the top of the soup can using a ¼” drill bit. (Use a 2 x 4 as a support to safely drill your holes if needed)drilled ca
  4. Still using your ¼” drill bit punch holes into the bottom of the soup can.
  5. Insert your soup can into the paint can, with ½” holes facing down.
  6. Cut a hole in your tuna can about half the diameter of the soup can and place it on top. You can use this can to concentrate the flame. Now, add your biomass which can include wood chips, twigs, etc. Add a splash of starter fluid and ignite the flame with a match. The tuna can placed atop the other three encourages the upward flow of the flame. Continue to add biomass.soup placed


After you make your biochar, check to make sure it’s pure carbon and doesn’t have any violates or tar in it which can harm the soil. A good way to check is to smell it to see if it has any odors or touch it to see if it feels oily. If it is oily or smelly, throw it into mature compost to activate it before adding to your planting soil.

One simple way to activate the biochar is by mixing it with grass clippings and covering it with cardboard or leaves. Let this sit until the grass clippings are composted; this may take a few months but it’s definitely worth the wait. It’s okay if you add water to the mixture but do this in the fall if you want to have it ready for the following spring. Use equal parts grass and biochar.  Let the mixture age in your compost.

For another alternative, mix equal parts of your completed biochar with worm castings and 5% of a food source such as cornmeal, flour, or molasses. Cover it and let it sit for two weeks. This method readies the biochar faster for use compared to the grass clippings method.

You’re well on your way to creating vital living soil! Please be safe, and remember you’re playing with fire. Your plants will thank you!

Local Biochar Suppliers

1. Brandywine Biochar, http://www.brandywinebiochar.com/local-services/

2. Soil Reef Biochar, https://www.soilreef.com/store/buy-biochar.php


1. http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar

2. http://sonomabiocharinitiative.org/about-biochar/

3. http://greenyourhead.typepad.com/files/wba-biochar-return-on-investment-orchards.pdf

4. http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/huen/nvh/biochar.pdf

5. http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1003221

6. http://www.dyarrow.org/SAREbiochar/BiocharAndMycorrhizae.pdf

7. http://greenlightplants.com/index.php/faq-for-biochar/

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.