Community Gardens Day

Hello to all! MEEP is heavy with harvest already and it’s not even officially summer yet. We have mulberries, nectarines (what we thought was a peach tree turns out to be a nectarine tree!), cherries, radishes, and beets! She’s currently a slightly overly wild beauty, but we’ll be working hard to tame her just a bit so we can have plenty of room for bbq, workshops, and fun on Saturday, June 20, 2015. This day is the first day of summer and Community Gardens Day! Gardens all around the city will be throwing a party to promote gardens and community importance!

Come out and play with us. It’s from 10am to 3pm. It’s being hosted by the Neighborhood Garden Trust. Visit there website for more info:


New Season Ramping Up

Hello to all! We have had some website and server troubles and so we’ve been out of touch for a few months. Luckily, we’re getting back on track just in time for spring and the waking up of the gardens! We’ve already done some clean up work at MEEP and we’ve planted cold loving crops such as beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips. The Free Food For You (FFFU) garden in North Philly has already had their first workparty! We’ll be sending out a call to all of you beautiful people to come join us in a workparty MEEP very soon!

These are a major things we want to tackle/accomplish this season at MEEP:

1) Expand the corn hill – we want to make it wider and a bit deeper to give the corn roots more room and the squash more room

2) Restructure our berries patch to create a path in the middle so that we can access all of the harvest this year

3) Convert the back fourth of our garden into a “set it and forgot” type of space that has edible and non-edible flowers mixed in with herbs. The goal here is to focus on the esthetics so that this space is visually pleasing and mostly weed free.

We’ll be doing lots of other things throughout the season, but these are the top focus items.

We are so looking forward to seeing you again and playing in the dirt side by side with you! Welcome to spring 2015!

Homemade Grape Juice (or wine, if you feel so inclined…)

Hello to all! Sadly, we’ve allowed this fast paced life to get in the way of keeping in touch with you yet again! It’s been two whole months since I sent you any love notes from our garden. What we HAVE done, is take pictures and keep notes of what’s been happening at MEEP. My goal is to eventually catch you up on all of it. For today, let’s talk about grapes! We’ve had a rather cool summer and I believe that is the reason our grapes are ready so soon. They’ve been ready for harvest for a few weeks now, but it was just this past Wednesday where we were able to do some harvesting. Marlon and I had two additional helpers (special thanks to Anika and Re for all their help!) so we spent the evening harvesting grapes (well, and tomatoes, peppers, and corn, but that’s another tale!).

Even with leaving many not fully ripe bunches on the vine and bullying anyone in the vicinity to take more grapes home with them, we ended up with about 15 pounds of grapes. Now that’s way too many to eat before they spoil! So, we determined we had no other choice but to make some kind of alcoholic beverage! We did this two years ago and called it grape mead. Technically that’s a misnomer because we only use a bit of honey and it’s mostly the grapes that ferment and make the alcohol. We should probably call it grape wine, but grape mead sounds so much cooler!

This is rather labor intensive, but I believe it’s so worth it! Here is the “how to” (please note I’m using the large quantities we had, you’ll have to do a bit of dividing math to determine the quantities based on what you have of grapes!):

What you need:
-Fresh Grapes (we had 15 pounds, which became 34 cups de-stemmed)
-water (we used 6 cups)
-honey ( we used 1 cup)
-champagne yeast (we used 1/5 packet per gallon)
-mesh strainer
-glass container or carboy (you can probably use plastic…)
-lid (or get fancy and get yourself an airlock and carboy bung)

The process:
1) De-stem all your grapes (it’s not a big deal if the little stem actually attached to the grapes doesn’t come off, because ultimately you’ll be straining it)
2) Wash your grapes very well (can’t have cobwebs, dirt, or bugs in your grape juice!)
3) Place grapes in stock pot and mash them up (I used a potato masher); this will yield quite a bit of juice
4) Add a small amount of water (we had 34 cups of grapes (measured before mashing) and only added 6 cups of water; you can add less if you wish!)
5) Cook your grapes until they start to boil and then turn off the pot.
6) Add in your honey (we used one cup per gallon – feel free to eyeball it, the honey can be to taste!)
7) Cover with lid, and let it sit for a few hours (we let it sit overnight; frankly this step may not be necessary, but we do it to ensure the grapes get all soft and mushy for maximum juice extraction)
8) Strain your grapes using the mesh strainer to get the majority of the grape mush separated from the juice (this initial straining yielded about a gallon and a quarter of juice)
9) Use a cheesecloth to strain the rest of the grape mush (we got about an additional half gallon out of it)
10) Once it’s separated from the grape mush, strain your grape juice a total of about 4 times before you place it into your glass jug (make sure you’ve sanitized your glass jugs!) to get as much of the sediment out of it as possible
11) You now have grape juice you can chill and enjoy! If you wish to convert it into an alcoholic beverage, just a shake in a bit of champagne yeast (the rule is one gram per gallon). Also, we have waaayyy more champagne yeast than we need, so hit us up if you need some!
12) IMPORTANT IF MAKING ALCOHOL: You must leave room in your bottle (recommend you only fill up to the neck) and you must leave a way for gases to escape during the fermentation process. If using recycled wine jugs like we did, you can just put the lid on and not close it super tight – the metal caps aren’t air tight. I just purchases some carboys (fancy word for wine jug), airlocks (lets the gases out but doesn’t let air into the bottle), and carboy bungs (rubber stopper with a hole for the airlock that seals in the jar) so we’ll soon be venturing into the more correct way to be making wine. Store your jug in a cool dark place for a minimum of six weeks (if not converting into alcohol, you should store it in the fridge!).

STRAINING TIPS: I recommend you start with a mesh strainer. What I did was pour the grape liquidy pulp into the strainer and use a spoon to help get the juice through. I then dumped the remaining pulp into a separate bowl. I rinsed the strainer between each pour. Some of the pulp will leak out and line the outside bottom of the strainer – just scrape it into the pulp bowl with a spoon!

When moving on to strain contents in the pulp bowl (which, by this time, will no longer be just pulp, but you’ll actually see quite a bit of juice in it again), use your cheesecloth to strain it. What Marlon did was cover the top of a funnel with the cheesecloth (he cut it to be just big enough to cover the funnel and have a bit hang over the edges), dumped in some pulp, gathered up all the edges of the cheesecloth, and squeezed to get the juice out. This will be done until you have gone through all your pulp. You may need to replace the cheesecloth piece several times. In between each filling with pulp, rinse out the cheesecloth.

Once you’ve done all the pulp, you should strain your liquid through the mesh strainer once or twice more, then strain the juice through a cheesecloth a few times. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with a lot of sediment at the bottom of your juice.

So, there you have it, grape juice from grapes! Delicious! The color is beautiful! Swing by MEEP in the next few weeks to get some fresh grapes so you can try to do this yourself!


Strawberries and other things

Today was the first day we did a true harvest at MEEP! Well, actually, on Friday we harvested two Japanese white turnips, so that’s the first harvest of the season. BUT, today we spent several hours at MEEP and when we left we left with strawberries, collard greens, green onions, and more turnips!

Let’s return to the Strawberries for a moment: both the intensity and the regular strawberries are yielding high amounts of strawberries! We were worried that this wouldn’t be a good year because we’d heard that strawberries need to be moved and pruned in their third year or else they don’t do well. Not a problem for us, thankfully! They’re yielding a lot! They are juicy and sweet. The harvest is just beginning; we had to leave many half ripe strawberries – something to look forward to for another day!

Okay, moving on from strawberries, today we took back the wire trellises! We did nothing with them last year and almost nothing with them the year before that. Today we removed all the brick and debris that had accumulated in that area and scooped out all rocks and leaves in the trellis area, down almost to the tarp that’s in place to keep separate the existing dirt (a bit high in lead). Then we took a wheelbarrow of good dirt for other areas in the garden (including dirt from where the compost used to be) and filled back in the growing area beneath the trellises. THEN, we planted black beauty zucchinis in one trellis area and two types of cucumbers in the second trellis area.

Today was all about planting things! We had to do some cleaning up to get to the planting, but the focus was on planting. We planted bush string beans, eggplant, sweet red pepper, sweet green pepper, and spicy red pepper.

Also, today we started our path to the three sisters! We planted corn in circles and rows on the big hill we’ve been creating and composting in preps of doing this! So exciting!

MEEP is a wild beauty. Today was a good day!

May 2014 Workparty

Well, I guess we learned our lesson today that it is NOT a good idea to send out the email reminder for our workparties on the evening before the workparty: No one showed up for today’s workparty. Well, that’s not entirely true, as we did have two young girls from the block helping us out.

All the same, it was still a very productive day for us. Our new design for MEEP is coming along nicely. We’ve been shoveling since September and at times it’s felt like we were getting nowhere, but now we can see the vision taking shape.

The Jerusalem artichokes are back! We had to ruthlessly pull many of them up, as they were encroaching into beds and the compost. Speaking of the compost, there were weeds and Jerusalem artichokes making the compost bins their home. We decided to put cardboard on the bottom to help keep the weeds at bay. So we shoveled out all compost, shoveled the done compost into a wheel barrow to use in the beds, laid down the cardboard, and then shoveled the undone compost back in. Hard work, but very rewarding when done!

The asparagus bare roots we planted a few weeks ago are almost all coming up! It’s exciting to see the baby asparagus stalks! We’re also seeing many baby seedlings sprouting for carrots, beets, and turnips.

Tomorrow we plan to have a light day. Since today was mostly about shoveling and hauling wheelbarrows full of mulch or compost, tomorrow we’ll concentrate on putting some more seeds into the ground.

For next month, we’ll plan better, and hopefully get to see a few more of you join us!

Spring is in the air!

This past Wednesday, it was windy and chilly. However, the weeds were all over the place and clearly flourishing from the past few days of sun. I was feeling a bit reluctant to be in the garden due to the chill in the air, but my spirits soared immediately when a beautiful sight that greeted me as I walked up: blooming purple spring flowers! I did some therapy by pulling weeds and felt all the better for it. We got a donation of collard green seedlings and so Marlon took a break from digging paths and together we planted the seedlings in two different beds. We’re trying an experiment to see if our seedlings are in danger of birds eating them all, so we’ve covered the larger collard greens bed with a row cover cloth and left the smaller bed without a cover so we can see if it gets all eaten up. It was nice to see the collard greens in the dirt.

Today (Sunday) we decided to spend a bit in the garden working on the paths. We began doing these paths back in September so we’d like to get them completed soon! They’re coming along. Today the weather was beautiful. We got a lot of cardboard we’ve been hoarding in our basement and laid it down on the paths that have been dug. We’ve unfortunately not yet gotten a truck load of wood chips (not for lack of trying! We’re in constant communication with a tree removal service!), which has placed a damper on our plans to cover the cardboard with wood chips for the paths in order to reduce the amount of weeds. We do have an old small pile of wood chips from about a year ago that someone dumped construction type sand and debris onto. We’ve not used it because we’d assumed it was no good. Today I was determined to find something usable in the pile and to my great surprise there was actually quite a lot of wood chips buried under two inches of sandy dirt. All we had to do was dig it out. That’s exactly what we did – Marlon and I shoveled about 10 wheel barrel loads onto our paths! AND, there are still a bit of wood chips for other paths!

This coming Wednesday will be for planting! We have Shasta daisies we’ll be planting throughout the entire garden. These plants have insect repellant properties. We’ll also be planting some lavender, lemon thyme, horseradish, cilantro, and tarragon seeds.

Hope to see you soon!


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.