Growing Asparagus

At MEEP this week we set up our asparagus bed. Asparagus is a perennial crop, its long green fingers coming up year after year. An asparagus plant may grow for 20 years or more. A sunny, well-drained part of the garden will yield the best crop. We planted 20 one-year crowns and 20 two-year crowns. They’re in a bed in the back of the garden. We must NOT harvest the asparagus during this first planting year. Spears will be produced from expanded buds on the crown. As the spears elongate and reach a height of about 8 to 9 inches, the tips will open. If not harvested, the spear will become woody to support the small branches that become ferns. Fern formation is critical to the next year’s growth. The asparagus will keep growing throughout the summer. But, we must stop harvesting at some point so some of the spears can go to fern, the stage when the tips turn feathery. Ferns should not be removed from asparagus plants until after several killing freezes.The ferns produce food for the plant and then move it down to the crown for next year’s spear production. In the winter the ferns will turn yellow, at which point we’ll cut them down in preps for over wintering. Next year we shall be able to harvest asparagus for about two weeks, but then for the rest of the harvesting season, we’ll allow the rest to grow ferns in order to allow the plants to get even stronger. Asparagus can be harvested for about six weeks each year starting at year three in their permanent location.


Hello to all! Philly Food Forests (PFF) is alive and well! Last year was a year full of changes and restructuring for us and so unfortunately we were running around so much we forgot to come here and tell you all the great things that have been happening. Today outside it was warm and sunny! Feels like spring is finally being ushered in (although, sadly, there are rumors of us getting below freezing next week). This year makes it our fourth season as urban gardeners reshaping various little corners in Philadelphia. PFF was started with Robyn’s vision, hard work, and green thumbs. Today, there are many of us who have taken up her vision and carry it proudly as we make it our own.

A new update is that I’ve embedded our PFF google calendar into this website. You can find it under the “calendar” tab. This is where you’ll find our upcoming schedules events in each garden space.

I’m still working on updating the photos and a few other tabs – for the next few weeks there may be a new change each time you visit.

I’m one of the primary caretakers of our Mercy Emily Edilbe Park (MEEP) in south Philly, so I’m going to quickly give you a few updates on that garden:

  • We successfully ordered asparagus! It shall arrive next week!
  • This week we got horseradish and lemon thyme plants!
  • We started using a journal to account for everything done in the garden. The journal is kept behind the sign pointing out the squash hill and asparagus. We’re asking  anyone who stops by to please write in the journal, just a quick note to let us know you were there and what you tackled while there.
  • We learned this week that one pickup truck full of mulch doesn’t get you very far. In order to much all the new paths we’ve created, we’d need about 20-30 pickup trucks full. Good news is that we’ve been communicating with the Bartlett tree chopping company and we’re tentatively scheduled to get a large load of wood chips from them in the week of April 21st.
  • We made some great flyers that we intend to post around our neighborhood in hopes of boosting community involvement locally. We even laminated some to help them survive the rain so we can post them outside.
  • We had a meeting with the Bermese refugees who also have a garden space on Mercy street. It was a good meeting – we cleared up many misconceptions and perceived slights were corrected or apologized for and we’re starting a new page this summer, with no grudges! Interesting, they have the same name as a new organization that started last year: Growing Home.
  • On April 12th, the Bermese refugees are throwing a lunch for the block in order to get everyone to meet and hang out.
This little note is just to let you know we’re here, playing still in the dirt, making Philly a greener place! This year we want to keep you posted on what’s going on.


Now comin’ atcha in Podcast form! Plus, Planning Potluck, Sunday 1/6!

New year, new technologies!

Click to listen to Robyn Mello explain the Philly Food Forests & Occupy Vacant Lots projects on, streamed live earlier today. Learn about the projects, our ideals, our workparty model, how we started, successes & challenges, common questions we get, & how you can start your own gardening/community-based project! You can even download it to your smartphone or iPod & listen while you do something else! Holy multitasking, Batman!

Full link:–occupy-vacant-lots-1

In addition, please join us for our First Planning Potluck of 2013!

All are welcome, even if you’ve never been to anything with us before. Scratch that. Especially if you’ve never been to anything with us before.

Sunday, January 6th
2070 E Susquehanna Ave

Bring food &/or drinks to share, something to write on/with, ideas, & motivation to start gettin’ stuff done!

It may be frigid outside, but the space & company is warm, & we’ll help to fill your thoughts with happy, sunshiney visions of hands in the dirt & fresh-picked food in your bellies.

There’s plenty to do before the spring, & starting seedlings is going to creep up on all of us before we know it. Yay!

If you’ve been to past meetings, look over the minutes & review what you signed up to do. Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to work on all those promised activities!

Can’t wait to see your radiant faces,

Read What Robyn Mello, Philly Food Forester, had to say last week before Philadelphia City Council:

Good afternoon, Councilpeople, & everyone who took time out of busy schedules & regular work hours to be here this morning.

Thank you for allowing me to testify today. My name is Robyn Mello, & I am here today representing myself as a 4 year resident of District 1, representing Historic Fair Hill, Inc. in North Philly as their Garden Manager & Nature Educator, & representing Philly Food Forests, an all-volunteer group I founded which, in part, works with neighborhoods to start edible gardens & orchards on their blighted, vacant lots. As an equally avid, active, & passionate gardener & organizer, I, & these organizations, oppose Proposed Bills 120916 & 120917 due to the negative effects they will surely have on existing & future community gardens & market farms, &, therefore, community & nutrition, in this city.

I garden with community members across a wide range of ages, cultures, interests, backgrounds, priorities, & educational & economic levels. With Philly Food Forests, Historic Fair Hill, & alone, I am building edible gardens & community in 13 locations in Councilman Squilla’s First, Councilman Clarke’s Fifth, & Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez’ Seventh Districts. My research shows that at least 10 lots within 4 of these gardens would be considered illegal to garden on should these proposals pass.

Let me paint a picture of these spaces:

Garden 1 consists of 6 vacant lots next to a transition house for women recently released from State Prison. I work with these women & neighbors on the block to produce food they want to eat, provide them with relevant community service, assist them in learning skills which teach discipline, attention to detail, & nurturing life. Many of them cherish their time outside the house, & they can’t wait to start gardens of their own when they are released from the house. One neighbor saved seeds from his peppers, tomatoes, squash, & beans received from Philadbundance so that he could try growing with us. That’s how I started growing food, &–what do you know? It works!

Gardens 2 & 3 are corner lots across the street from each other which have each been supported in past & present by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Orchard Project, & the local Congresswoman. They are maintained mostly by neighboring Puerto Rican families dedicated to keeping them clean & safe, & they are often now the site of community meetings & relaxation time on hot, summer days where neighbors can snack on white raspberries, peaches, & strawberries growing all around. What were they previously? They were drug-selling corners.

Space 4 is a new garden that has won a lot of hearts & stomachs. It is a garden amidst nearly 3 vacant blocks, full of dumping & surrounded by crumbling houses, across from a massive Philadelphia Housing Authority complex. We all call it The Peace Park because we designed it to be a 40-foot diameter peace symbol, easily seen from the PHA building’s highest story windows. In its first season, it has become both a symbol & creator of peace, providing a place for many young children to learn & play, for adults to participate & harvest, for the community to come together for potlucks, live music, & clothing donations, & proving once again that gardens result in less litter. If these proposals pass, rendering community gardening & market farming illegal in CMX-2 zones, communities like those we’re involved in will suffer.

I’m often confused by decisions made by lawmakers stated to be in the best interests of constituents, so I’m finally feeling that my voice needs to be heard here, in hope that my confusion may also cause Council to reexamine its thinking. My questions are these:

1. Why, after so many years & such an outpouring of labor, outreach, & money to create a new zoning code to reflect what this city’s people want, are these bills necessary to pass so quickly after the new code was put in place & so far before the one-year review process that was suggested?

2. If we state as a city that we aspire to be the greenest city in America, & at the same time we are statistically listed as the second hungriest city in the country, why would our elected government officials want to make it more difficult for its citizens to voluntarily green its land & feed is people?

3. When will our government & planners begin to consider the savings rather than revenue generated, the increased financial savings & improved health of people, the lessened pressure on overburdened welfare & medical systems, the decreased crime rates & less tax money spent on policing, & the increased property values & taxes resulting from community gardens when discussing “the highest & best use” of a space for “development”?

If every neighborhood had a lot or two in which interested residents could grow food & the city actually encouraged it, if all zonings allowed community gardens & market farms for at least interim or long-term leasing, if our utility companies provided breaks to residents for rainwater collection & our streets department incentivized residents to create neighborhood composting sites, the development we all want in this city would follow, but with a conscience & resiliency which urban areas truly need if we’re going to survive & thrive.

I don’t have much need for statistics or years of academic study to prove to me the necessity of gardens in densely-populated cities. I see their need every day. But the statistics are there, & the research has been done: gardening & growing food is nothing but positive.

I am the new face of young people moving into Philadelphia, & I intend to continue pouring my time, energy, love, & money into it. My time, energy, & love all go toward growing free food & cultivating free communities. My money comes from doing the same. There are many, many Philadelphians like me–many are here today–& judging by the flow of newcomers from various backgrounds we have show up to our garden activities, there will continue to be more every day. Growing food & cleaning our neighborhoods is not a new thing, & we are not following a fad. We are creating our futures & shaping this city’s. If you want us to stay in this city to be its leaders of tomorrow, I urge you to refrain from passing Bills 120916, 120917, & any future bills limiting urban agriculture.

Whether or not they pass, I know of at least four groups of CMX-2 lots that will continue to function as community gardens next season, & I personally welcome any Councilperson to visit, join in our community, & take home some fresh, free food anytime you’d like.

Meeting this Sunday, 11/11, 5pm

Join Philly Food Forests & Occupy Vacant Lots in Kensington for our first off-season potluck & meet-up to keep the momentum up & up the ante for next growing season!

(E-mail for the meeting address.)

This is the time of the year to gather indoors, reflect on what’s happened this season, hash out all the nitty-gritty details of our hopes & dreams, delegate tasks a bit better, improve our organizational skills, discuss on-going & potential new projects, eat more good food provided by attendees, & continue growing our community in the way that all can agree on.

If you’ve never been to an event of ours or if it’s been a while, whether you like on the ground gardening & growing or indoor administrative & online tasks (or both!), whether you have a ton of time or very little to dedicate, blah blah blah, we want you at this gathering!

If you can’t make it, we’ll post minutes as quickly as we can on this website & our Facebook page so you can go through what happened & be better informed for our next meet-up, which is tentatively planned for Sunday, November 25th.

Thanks so much!


P.S. Check out this great article published about our work:

South Philly’s Other Magic Garden is MEEP!

We had a truly magical workparty at Mercy Edible Park (MEEP) in South Philly on Sunday! All in all, well over 30 people showed up. We started off the day with some old friends coming to visit, then decided, hey, it’s time to harvest some honey! Soooo we did! For the first time, we collected an entire medium super of honey–approximately 40lbs–still leaving the bees with over 100lbs for themselves (they need 60lbs to overwinter). It’s very light in color & exquisitely tasty & messy, just the way we like it. Thanks, Bees!

Afterwards, we weeded & harvested food, weeded & harvested food, ate our potluck’s delights, weeded & harvested more food, cooled off & played around in the fire hydrant, & hung out under our newly donated tent from the Occupy National Gathering folk while some new friends painted a beautiful mural on a grafittied wall behind the lot where we have a 3-year private lease. The garden is truly looking like a forest, though mostly of Jerusalem Artichokes, myriad herbs, tomatoes, & saplings at this point (no canopy yet, but we can see it!), & we’re in love, as per usual.

Around 5pm, when we were all thinking of leaving, one of our volunteers pulled out a PA system & 3 microphones, so we had an impromptu concert in the garden with the rest of the volunteers singing, playing guitar, various drums & rhythm instruments, & a few of the garden’s immediate neighbors coming in to rhyme over the rhythm while all the other neighbors sat around & laughed/clapped/generally enjoyed themselves. Blues-jazz-folk-rap fusion, South Philly style!

With our playing, our intent was to call the rain in because we were all too tired to water, &, well, rain is way better than we are at doing the job anyway. And, boy, did it work (we had no doubts)! Most hid from the deluge by huddling together & laughing under the tent while the guys continued painting, Robyn started planting fall seeds, & a few newcomers kept on digging away at some out-of-control weeds. The experience, commitment, & hilarity was one for the memory books.

Most people eventually braved the rain to have a final toast to a day well spent, & the last to leave left about 11 hours after we first arrived. There was nothing we’d rather have done than share such an incredible day with our Occupy Vacant Lots/Philly Food Forests/MEEP family. Thank you to all who participated, & for those who didn’t make it out, be sure to come to our Brewerytown Peace Park Barbecue & Workparty with Philadelphia Coalition of the Heart on Sunday, August 26th! It’s gonna be another doozy! Also, stay tuned for details on our fall orchard planting in the North Delhi Street megalots.


Summer’s here, we’re eatin’ well, & we can’t slow down!


Historic Fair Hill’s workparty went really well this past Sunday! We finished woodchipping the garden; weeded; defoliated the tomatoes a bit & staked ‘em up for better air flow, sun exposure, & more energy toward all the new budding green ‘maters; hung out with all the usual neighborhood kids; ate delicious deserts made with rhubarb, strawberries, & cherries picked in our neighborhoods; & talked a little about the future.

We’ve decided the (above mentioned) workparty at Fair Hill will be the last of the summer, perhaps to pick back up in autumn. In addition, July 8th’s workparty at Delhi Street will be our last for the summer until we plant some fruit trees there in autumn, turning it into a veritable orchard! Both sites are well managed & we’ve done such great work that we can take some well-deserved Sundays off! That means that until at least September, we will be cutting back to only workparties at Mercy Edible Park (yes, this Sunday, July 1st!) & the North Philly Peace Park (i.e. July 15th).

Don’t worry, though! There’s plenty of other things to be planning, working on, attending, etc. Keep reading!

Sunday, July 1st, 11am-6pm – If you’re not already aware, it’s almost time for the National Gathering! Tune into Occupy Philly’s website & Facebook for more info. This Sunday’s July 1st worparty at Mercy Edible Park will be hosting vans full of interested activists from all over the country, & we want them to see how we do it! Help out in whatever way you want. We’ll be having impromptu workshops & skillshares all day, plus plenty of routine maintenance & tons of harvesting needs to be done! Potluck, free store, harvest, & fun!

Wednesday, July 4th, 12pm-8pm – 5th & Mercy Street Block Party! Join Philly Food Forests & the people of Mercy Street & have a grand ol’ time South Philly style. BYO to help out with the days festivities. Food, water, libations, fun, grills, whatever you want. The whole block’s wingin’ it!

Saturday, July 14th, 3pm-7pm – Historic Fair Hill’s Annual Fiesta de Verano on 9th & Indiana Streets! We’ll need volunteers & attendees just to have fun. Lots of Puerto Rican food, a horse & carriage in the burial ground, games, gardening, lots of neighbors, music, face painting, & the street blocked off!

Saturday, July 28th, 12pm-6pm (& an afterparty until 10pm) – ART/GAGE festival on 10th & South Street hosted by Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens! Philly Food Forests was asked to have a table & want your input! If you have anything to put into a ‘zine, any prints, photos, etc. to donate for fundraising, or any other great ideas, let us know ASAP!, or 215-571-9506.

Also, stay tuned to hear more about the Patch Adams Free Clinic project! They just secured a 5-acre parcel around 18th & Allegheny, & they’ll need lots of volunteers to make their GIANT EARTHSHIP CLINIC & FOOD FOREST a reality. That means you! More at

There’s LOTS happening (pun intended). Even if you haven’t been around yet, join us now! Anything sound interesting? Ideas? Help? Donations? We want ‘em all!

Love, peas, beans, & greens!
PFF & OVaL ♥

Fireflies at Mercy Street

Fireflies at Mercy Street

Some things take longer than a month. Some things take longer than a year. Just a month ago, I was wondering where all our food was. We’d been working really hard to plant and keep the garden maintained, and it seemed like all we had to show for it were greens, herbs, pests and struggling saplings. April didn’t feel too food-generative for the Republic of MEEP.

I don’t know much about gardens. I’m just a suburban upper-middle class kid who said no to the lawn lifestyle. As a lawn child, everything beautiful took about a week at most to build or get. It takes awhile to learn to live by garden time.

* * *

Sometimes it feels like you’re plugging away at things forever and making no progress. A month ago, I made the mistake of walking around at night and saw about a bajillion leopard slugs munching on our leaves. One of our apple trees is infected with cottony scale bugs. The harlequin beetles that devastated our brassicas last year are coming back. And the radishes, supposedly one of the earliest spring crops, hadn’t even sprouted yet!

I put on a brave face and didn’t say anything about it – just kept planting, kept weeding and kept visiting the garden to talk to the greens. They told me not to worry, but you know humans. We always think we know best. “What the hell, MEEP.”

Today was different. I hadn’t been to the garden in about a week or two, but in that week, everything had changed.

* * *

Squash from last year is already taking over the lettuce bed. Underneath their broad leaves, telltale spires of romaine-looking leaves shoot their way out of the ground. Bush beans muscle up to the squash plants, wending their way around the thick, spiny vines.

It isn’t just a few lots with some greens and herbs and dead plants. It’s a forest. I don’t even know what’s going on any more.

Little volunteer tomatoes sprout up everywhere in defiance of the soft monoculture tyranny that the jerusalem artichokes are trying to sustain.

Sweet dinosaur kale spreads its teal, bumpy leaves in three separate places.

A cheddar cauliflower just sprouts and buds its yellow, brain-shaped fruit in our newest heart-shaped bed.

The heirlooms I’d planted the other day are well on their way to becoming sauce on the stove and salad in my stomach. Tomatoes in purple, orange, yellow and red will sprout in a couple months.

True, the cilantro was all bolted, but right next door, a new, giant echinacea plant mingles with the mint.

Salad greens I’ve never even seen grow next to the brassicas. Olive green leaves are variegated with purple veins. The radishes bloom and crest red above the soil. Just two months ago, I could hold about two hundred seeds in one hand. Now a bunch of three, held by the leaves, make a gluttonous snack. My burps still have a piquant aftertaste.

* * *

The neighborhood kids noticed the firefly first, flashing neon above the former mixed greens patch where little rust-colored lettuce has taken root. Fireflies lay eggs that hatch into glow-worms, which feed upon slugs and help keep those populations in check. That’s the real reason we want to have fireflies; though the magical visual for the neighborhood kids to connect with our garden doesn’t hurt!

Glow-worms are the larval form of fireflies. They live for about two years, then turn into fireflies, which have about twenty days to find mates, lay eggs and die.

The males fly around while the females signal to them from underneath plants in wet, shady spaces to lay eggs. The males flash and match their signal to the females, which leads to mating and the hatching of glow-worms.

We all looked around and saw at least three more fireflies around the wide-brimmed squash plants and thick garlic profusion. The fact that several male flies hung around our space meant females were hidden where we couldn’t see. They approved of it as a space to raise their young.

* * *

Fireflies are finding mates in the garden. The insect kingdom approves of our efforts. It might take a few years for the glow-worms and the slugs to reach a balanced population, but we’re building the rest of our lives here. Us and the Photuris pennsylvanica together. I think this is going to last.

The Campaign That TOOK BACK Vacant Land

Last night, Circle of Hope in the Fishtown/Kensington section of the city hosted a loving, happy, supportive, raucous, & proud crowd who are telling the city government to “put vacant land in our hands!” Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced Bill 120052 recently to create a city land bank which would centralize all vacant city property under a new agency & give the city the power to add privately owned vacant land which sits tax delinquent, unused, crumbling, & trash-strewn to its coffers. This meeting was organized for residents of The First District, largely to echo support for the bill & convince Council to pass the bill with a few amendments.

There was standing room only in the large community room–approximately 150 people. Local businesses donated food & coffee; childcare was available so everyone who wanted to be present was able, & we all seemed interested in why everyone else was there. Among many others in attendance, there were high school students from South & North Philly; leaders of multiple first district civic groups; church leaders; advocates for the physically disabled; formerly homeless activists; infants, elementary age children, & octogenarians; block captains, CDC representatives, & housing groups; gardeners & farmers; squatters; low, middle, & upper income folks from all colors of the rainbow; people who have lived here their whole lives, & people who want to make Philly their permanent home, & new First District City Councilman Mark Squilla.

This town hall meeting was largely full of testimony from various leaders of groups who make up the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land Coalition. Philly Food Forests was invited because of the work that we do in The First District (Mercy Edible Park & the new Free Food For You Garden are within its bounds) & our obvious alliance with the work of the Campaign. A win for one is a win for all. We even got a couple of shout-outs throughout the meeting from President of the Queens Village Neighborhood Association, Jeff Hornstein, & members from United Communities who garden a few blocks away from MEEP (hooray!).

The Land Bank Bill is something we all have to be wary of & diligent in watching, should it be passed. Controlling that much land is a lot of power for one agency to hold, & although there will supposedly be community members from various parts of the city on the board, the city doesn’t have the best track record for stakeholder involvement when it comes to development. But you can read the bill & make that decision on your own. My concern in writing this is not the politics or snakes in the grass.

My concern is one of recognizing the power that we already have. Sitting in that room was so much energy, so many resources, so many bright minds, that we have to realize that we have already taken back the vacant land. We can’t put all of our trust in city agencies & administration, but we can trust ourselves, & that’s what this is about. That’s what Philly Food Forests & Occupy Vacant Lots are about. If we say, “This is ours!”, & we believe it, we will be able to keep our gardens & community spaces, we will be able to decide what types of housing & businesses enter our neighborhoods, we will have enough ears & eyes on our vacant properties that no one will dare touch them.

In addition, we have to convince the politicians & city planners in Philadelphia that gardening, community open space, sideyards, backyards, community centers, historic preservation, & affordable housing ARE DEVELOPMENT! Mark Squilla said a few times last night, “I don’t want anyone to think that I’m against development.” We’re not against development, either. We’re only against it when it turns a blind eye on what existing communities need. In many cases, we are developing our communities ourselves, & we want that ability. My ability to grow my own food & hang out with children to pass on the importance of nutrition, exercise, gardening, & outdoor play is a big part of the development that the whole world needs. Please help us all make that shift in language.

I refuse to believe that heart & love & passion & community are less powerful than money & politics. We have the ability to convince money & politics that they are powerless without us.




To read more on the Land Bank Bill:

Workday at MEEP with Occupy Vacant Lots!

Sunday was a successful day of smiles! The potluck had enough food for our forty-five mouths! A free store’s closing inventory was enough so that we could not see out the back window of the car!

We planted two more apple trees, thank you to the wonderful folks who dug in the bricks! One is names Fruitus Brutus, though I am not sure the other did get a name.  A bunch of our compost has been moved and buried among some brush in small, shallow trenches and covered with the soil that came out of the trench, after some sifting from our new amazing sifter!

It is a open-ended cylinder of hardware cloth held together by some string and a pair of bicycle rims, sans spokes. This contraption sits on a frame of wood, and you shovel in your stuff…and spin it…and out the bottom comes sifted dirt (or compost) and out the end comes a pile of big chunks (in our case bricks).

About 45 people showed up bearing goodies…We held a successful Free Store, and Potluck. Memorables: cranberry tart, Bri soup, fresh bread, leather jackets, good books, A MEEP COFFEE MAKER!, nice dresses, and one really great shirt among many. One guy brought a truckload of hard work and mushroom compost! He wrote a great blogpost about it here , you can see our sifter in one photo!

Moved some berries around, planted out more lillies. Compost turned.

All the red clover that was selectively weeded out of paths was replanted into the trunks of young trees. Nitrogen fixing heroes of our day.

So we got some hugelkultur beds set up, apple trees planted, much needed weeding and mulching of pathways done. We pruned the grapes  and cleaned out a really smelly, dirty alleyway…the one that was causing a lot of mosquito-borne terror and discomfort. (last year’s dusk was nearly unbearable for those who get bit)

This has been a frenetic post, as it grows late into the evening. But an update is an update is an update is an….

In the works: a spiral raised bed, more compost bins, more trees, COB oven and toolshed/workbench….

Also: Worked up a submission for the upcoming PhillyStake (check the link…always a good time!) for the supplies and trees needed for the garden sites being worked by PFF and OVaL. Will keep ya’ll updated.

STAY TUNED! Much love from us to you. Thanks for all your continued support!

Take it easy, peasey.