Unusual Fruits for Philly Orchards: The Benefits of Being Different

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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

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.  

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
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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!
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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.