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

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

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


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

This POP program update written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel


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

Capturing and Conserving Water with Stormwater Catchments and Edible Rain Gardens

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

lea elementary rain garden

Volunteers plant water-loving perennials in the rain garden at new Lea Elementary partner orchard (above)

In areas where runoff rainwater or overflow is a concern for causing soil erosion and the possible spread of chemical pollutants, pesticides, or sediment into the watertable, stormwater catchment allows for precipitation to be redirected into the landscape to benefit plantings of perennials tolerant of “wet feet”.  One strategy for stormwater catchment is the installation of rain gardens–sunken basins which capture and absorb runoff in the landscape. Rain gardens are typically planted with water-loving and fibrous-rooted plants such as iris (Iris versicolor) and calamus (Acorus calamus), and trees such as Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), but edible plants can be included as well.  The Philadelphia Orchard Project has been involved with pilot projects incorporating fruiting and edible plant materials into rain garden plantings at some of its partner schools. In 2009, POP worked with Greening Greenfield and the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) on a project that incorporated juneberries (Amelanchier spp) and paw paws (Asimina triloba) into rain garden beds at Greenfield Elementary in Center City.  This fall, POP collaborated with Greening Lea, PWD, the Netter Center, and other partners on a project that incorporated blueberries (Vaccinium), chokeberries (Aronia), paw paws, and fiddlehead ferns (Matteuccia) into new rain gardens at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia.  What could be better than replacing paved schoolyards with multi-functional green infrastructure?

There are several primary types of rain gardens. The simplest consist of terraformed basins sunk below the level of the surrounding landscape, while others include subsurface gravel pits and/or cisterns for additional water storage. Depending on the size and scale, some engineering is required to calculate capacity and ensure effective stormwater management.

Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting using rain barrels, cisterns, or other means of storage is another effective strategy for stormwater management that can aid in transforming the negative effects of runoff into a positive resource. If rainfall in the eastern United States amounts to 40 inches annually, as estimated in Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, it’s calculated that that the average 1,000 square-foot residential roof will save 25,000 gallons of water annually – enough to keep a 1,000 square-foot garden watered for 250 days of drought! (p 106)

rain barrel planter rain barrels rain barrel green

Various types of stormwater catchment barrels

Rain barrels

Storage drums and tanks needn’t be an eyesore, either! Some are designed as planters from the outset to lend a distinctive look to a garden. Others, if buried to be half-recessed in the ground, can be overplanted with showy ornamentals to make the tank less obtrusive. Hooked up to a roof’s downspout, barrels collect water (oftentimes topped with metal screening to prevent debris and insects from entry), and hoses and drip irrigation water lines can be connected to carry the collected water out and into the garden.

Many resources exist online for such systems, such as the Harvest H20 community, which provides lots of information on choosing a tank, working with purification filters, and shares success stories of homeowners, schools, and civic buildings that have made use of stormwater management, achieving beneficial results in terms of lessening water use and consumption.

In Philadelphia, free 55-gallon water barrels are available to interested residents along with education, planters, and porous pavers, as part of Rain Check, a Philadelphia Water Department program now managed through PHS that helps residents manage stormwater at their homes. Since June 2011, 1,100 barrels have been incorporated throughout the city, and it’s estimated that stormwater pollution will have been reduced by 85 percent!

Edible Rain Gardens and Water-Loving Perennials

Rain gardens that draw upon the five-fold combination of rich compost to hold moisture, contours that allow for runoff to be held and disbursed through underground channels, swales (shallow trenches that can become saturated with water), and dense and well-mulched plantings that keep the soil cool and prevent plants’ transpiration are a key strategy for conserving water until it’s absorbed by the soil.

Choosing a wide variety of native plants, attractive ornamentals, and pollinator-friendly plants, in addition to edibles and medicinals, contributes to a healthy and vital ecosystem that honors the balance of resources and relationships and provides the greatest benefit for filtering stormwater and runoff. LowImpactDevelopment.org  is a great resource for those planning a rain garden, providing sample templates, designs, and plant lists.

Choose plants that are suited to the drainage your soil receives! A distinguishing characteristic of rain gardens is that plants contained within must withstand wet roots that take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to drain. Consider adding the following water-loving species to your rain garden:

Fruiting Edibles: Chokeberry (Aronia spp.), Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), High-bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), High-bush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), Paw paw (Asimina triloba), Currants (Ribes rubrum/ nigrum), Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa,), Jostaberries (Cross between Currants and Gooseberries), Raspberries (Rubus spp.), Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpom), Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis), Huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum), Elderberry (Sambucus caerulea/nigrum), Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum)

Herbaceous edibles: Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Cattail (Typha spp.),  Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), Taro (Colocasia esculenta)

Medicinals: Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Horsetail (Equisetum spp.), Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus), Taro (Colocasia esculenta), Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva), Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), Yaupon (Ilex vomitorium)

For more information on water conservation and constructing a resilient ecosystem in the face of runoff, consult the following resources:

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture: 2nd Edition by Toby Hemenway






This edition of POP Tips researched and compiled by 2015 POP Outreach Intern, 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.