Unusual Fruits for Philly Orchards: The Benefits of Being Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 intern Lucia Kearney harvests Nanking cherries at Awbury Arboretum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNCOMMON FRUITING SHRUBS (most recommended to least):

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

UNCOMMON FRUITING VINES (most recommended to least):

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


  1. Alpine Strawberry
  2. Prickly Pear


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

ZONE 8 FRUITING PLANTS (require winter protection):

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

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

Unusual Fruits for Philly 

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

Support us! 

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

‘Lean On Me’: An Overview of Orchard Trellis Systems

Posted on Categories Berries & Vines, Blog, Home, Orchard CareTags , , , , , , ,
A rustic grapevine trellis. Painting by Jean Kieffer.

By now, we’ve all heard Bill Withers’ classic swooning lyric “we all need somebody to lean on.” As I was working on building a trellis for the tomatoes in my home garden last weekend, I couldn’t help but think of this lyric’s many meanings – it’s a simple adage and it’s so true!

As a new POP intern, it is exciting to think of all of the partner and community support POP depends upon to grow: without you all, POP would be unable to thrive. In the same way, I love to celebrate all of the support we give our orchards to do the same. What does our orchard support look like? Many things: from pruning training and pest and disease management advice to harvesting and trellising. As I pounded the stakes of my tomato trellis into the ground, I was struck by the romantic notion of the trellis as something for our orchards to lean on. So, how do we lend that support?

Training grape vines to a new wires at POP’s trellis-building workshop at Historic Strawberry Mansion in 2015.

The Basics

There are two main types of plants that POP orchardists work to trellis: brambles like raspberries and blackberries and fruiting vines like grapes and hardy kiwiberries. Trellising these plants helps ensure efficient fruit production, easy harvesting, space management, and airflow to reduce mold and disease formation. In this post, I am focusing on trellises with posts perpendicular to the ground and wires running horizontally in between posts.  

Kiwi vines are often trained to a series of overhead wires as pictured above. Credit: Bob Guthrie

The Materials

Trellises are best constructed with strong materials to support the weight of the plants. These materials can include wood, metal, or bamboo posts and galvanized wire. Various hardware can also be used including turnbuckles, wire strainers, hooks or nails for training, and eye bolts. For extra support, use cement at the base of the posts, utilize anchor posts and wires, angle posts away from the inside trellis, or construct the trellis on a pre-existing structure.

Trellising grapes gives the plants support, better access to sun and airflow. Credit: Deep Green Permaculture

The Construction

There are a wide range of materials and forms to choose from, but here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when constructing a trellis:

  • Keep your posts and cross wires perpendicular using a level when necessary
  • Tighten cross wires to avoid sagging by using a turnbuckle, strainer, or other wire tensioner.
  • Utilize appropriate spacing based on the weight and growth patterns of your plant. For example, most grape vines are planted with about 7 or 8 feet of space in between each plant, whereas kiwis are planted 10 to 12 feet apart.  Maximum distance between posts for a properly supported trellis is 20 to 30 feet, so you might fit 3 or 4 grapes but only 2 or 3 kiwis between each post.  
  • For heavy vine crops like grapes, kiwis, and trailing blackberries, additional support is needed at either end of the trellis to keep the weight from pulling the structure inward.  Options include h-braces, posts angled outwards, or ground wires.  These are generally not needed for raspberries and upright blackberries, whose stems can support some of their own weight.
  • Twist ties or horticultural ties are useful for training the vines to the trellis.  Just be careful not to tie them too tight and choke of plant growth.
  • Be creative and thrifty! There are many ways to recycle materials to construct strong trellises.
Constructing angled t-post end supports for a new grape trellis.


For step-by-step instructions on trellis construction options and other helpful tips, check out the following:

Growing Hardy Kiwifruit (kiwiberries) in the Home Garden

Adventures in Bramble Trellising

Ideas to Construct a Grape Trellis

POP Blog – Pruning and Training: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

How to Build a Cable Trellis

Sourcing Trellis Materials

Wood or metal posts, galvanized wire, and other materials can be purchased at most garden/farm supply centers and hardware stores, although special ordering of some items is sometimes necessary.  For more specialized trellising supplies like wire strainers and fasteners, there are a variety of online orchard/vineyard supply options:




This edition of POP Tips prepared by POP 2017 intern Amy Jean Jacobs. 

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.  

Late-Season Ripeners: A How-to on harvesting and preserving Jujubes, Persimmons, Medlars, Hardy Kiwis, & Gojis

Posted on Categories Blog, Harvesting, Home, PlantsTags , , , ,

POP plants orchards with an intention of having as long a season of harvestable crops as possible in our urban Northeast temperate climate. We’ve now experienced our first frosts of the season–bad for many annual plants and crops still hanging on trees, but a very necessary part of the ripening process for some of the late-season fruit trees and shrubs that may be planted in your orchards!

JUJUBE (Zizyphus jujuba)

Jujubes (AKA Chinese Red Dates) are native to Asia but grow very well in our climate, requiring pollinators and generally pest and disease resistant. They should ripen before first frost, but it somewhat depends on the person and prefered use of the fruit as to when they’re harvested. Light green when maturing, I prefer to harvest them when they’ve just reached their full brown color and impart a dry pear-apple-like flavor. If left to ripen longer, and possibly with a wetter season, their brown skin may begin to wrinkle before it cracks, with the whitish flesh inside turning yellow and tasting more like a super sweet, overripe banana. To preserve your jujubes, blanch them, soak them in a lemon juice solution, dry them in a dehydrator or on your oven’s lowest setting with the door propped open, and leave them in a brown paper bag to complete their drying before putting them into storage containers (see more detailed description in link below).

Ripe jujubes at SHARE Food Program Orchard in Hunting Park (Photo by Robyn Mello)


How to Dry Jujubes – http://www.livestrong.com/article/556404-how-to-dry-jujube-fruit/

Make Your Garden a Candyland with Jujubes: http://blog.oregonlive.com/homesandgardens/2010/06/make_your_garden_a_candyland_w.html

PERSIMMONS (Asian – Diospyros kaki, American – Diospyros virginiana)

The difference between a ripe persimmon and an unripe persimmon is one of the most striking. As one of my very favorite fruits, I’m guilty of excitedly harvesting too early & learning my lesson every time. Unripe persimmons are highly astringent, due to a compound called leucodelphinidin which bonds to proteins in the mouth, with their skins and flesh imparting a “filmy”, unpleasant puckered feeling that leaves you feeling the effects for quite a while afterwards. These fruits can ripen before a first frost, but they’re very often ready after. There are a few varieties of Asian (kaki) persimmons that are ‘non-astringent’ and can be harvested and eaten when bright orange but still hard (Fuyu, Jiro, Izu, etc). If you’re not sure of the variety, take a small bite from one if you’re curious! With American persimmons and most other Asian varieties, you want them to be very soft, squishy, and falling away from the tree as you touch them or harvest them from the ground. As such, gently shaking the tree with a sheet underneath is a very simple harvesting method. Pole harvesters are also useful, but their tines may puncture soft skins and flesh if you’re not careful.


Asian persimmons: https://plantogram.com/product/persimmon_fuyu/

Ripe American persimmons: http://www.persimmonpudding.com/harvest/ripeness-krebill.html

Noted orchardist, Martin Crawford, writes: “Ripe fruits have a soft, smooth, jelly-like texture, a honey-like sweetness, and a richness ‘akin to apricot with a dash of spice’. [American persimmons] are softer and drier than kaki/Asian persimmons, but have a richer flavour. When ripe, the skin is almost translucent and the calyx (the green cap to which the stem is attached) separates readily from the fruit…. Fruits can be ripened artificially, but must be nearing ripeness on the tree… Near-ripe persimmons will ripen stored in a warm place in the kitchen; to accelerate ripening, put the fruits into a plastic bag with a ripe apple for about a week.”


Judging Persimmon Ripeness: 5 Criteria – http://www.persimmonpudding.com/harvest/ripeness-krebill.html

MEDLAR (Mespilus germanica)

Medlars, cultivated for 3000 years and native to the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula (Turkey, Iran, Bulgaria), must undergo a process known as bletting in order to be most edible. Bletting involves letting the fruits experience a hard frost, harvesting, and spreading out on an absorptive material for the fruits’ cell walls to continue breaking down and converting sugars until nearly rotten. They can also be left to blet on the tree, but this may be less successful. If you can get past the fruit’s rather unappealing aesthetic, it’s delicious when soft and brown. Lee Reich prefers them “folded with cream; mixed with egg, cream, and milk to make a refreshing gelato; cooked with eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger and poured into a pastry shell; or… just plain unaccompanied.” Martin Crawford suggests making jam or fruit leather mixes with them. When eating, be sure to spit out the seeds.

The difference between an unripe (outer edges) and ripe (center) medlar




HARDY KIWI (Actinidia arguta)

Kiwifruits only captured the attention of those outside Asia since the latter half of the 20th century, but their sweet-tart flavor and jewel-green flesh make them very appealing. Kiwikorners, a local grower in Danville, PA, markets them as “Passion Poppers: a nutrient dense superfruit.” Hardy kiwis don’t ripen all at once, even within the same cluster, so test out a few before harvesting them all at once. When the first fruits start to soften to your touch, you can harvest them all and have them soften to desired ripeness in your kitchen. Often called kiwiberries, these fuzzless fruits can be eaten whole like grapes rather than skinned like most fuzzy kiwis you find in grocery stores. If you have an excess, consider making kiwi tarts, jam, or wine. Be careful, though, heating will muddy the vibrant, green color.

Nearly ripe kiwifruits at SHARE Food Program Orchard (photo by Robyn Mello)

Ripe hardy kiwifruit at SHARE Food Program Orchard (photo by Robyn Mello)

Do you have kiwi vines that haven’t produced fruit yet? They can take up to 5 years to begin producing fruit, but they also require male and female plants for pollination, and they require a lot of winter and mid-season pruning to keep them healthy and properly productive. Though we’ve planted all kiwivines with male and female plants, it’s possible that you need a new male pollinator. Please contact us if you think this is the case.


Hardy Kiwifruit, Cornell – http://www.fruit.cornell.edu/mfruit/kiwifruit.html

GOJI (Lycium barbarum)

Also known as wolfberry, goji is a shrubby, potentially vining member of the nightshade family along with tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and several toxic species. It has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years and recently came to extreme popularity in the U.S. when touted as an ancient superfood. Fortunately, it also grows in our climate and propagates easily from seed and cuttings. It is best harvested and eaten fresh or dried when the fruits are bright scarlet-orange-red and fall easily from the stem. The leaves are also edible and often used as an ingredient in soups!

Ripe goji berries on the vine (Wikimedia Commons)


Youtube: Growing/Harvesting Fresh Goji Berries, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1a4eOEoeF4

Overall resources

Martin Crawford, Trees for Gardens, Orchards, and Permaculture, 2015, Permanent Publications

Lee Reich, Grow Fruit Naturally, 2012, The Taunton Press

This edition of POP Tips prepared for you by Robyn Mello, POP Program Director (10/20/15).

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.