UTC is excited to welcome our first ever Community Engagement Farmer, Terrence Topping-Brown, who will be joining us as the cornerstone of our new Farm and Education Program, funded by the Chester Housing Authority, at the Ruth Bennett Homes in Chester, Pa. A native of Upper Darby Township, Terrence grew up in the neighborhood next to Haddington and still has strong connections to the area. He presently coaches track at Upper Darby High School, his alma mater, and is excited to be working with folks near his hometown to build food security.
While there is not a lot that can endure the dogged days of winter, there is one wild edible that can be seen holding tenaciously to the frozen ground, reaching its limbs through cracks in the ice and breaks in the snow, and populating the pathways in our high tunnels. UTC/NF farmer Rachel de Vitry shares her insights on Chickweed, a surprisingly resilient cold hardy vegetable that makes a happy home on our farm:
When Ryan, UTC’s agricultural director, told me that we’re now partnering with Bennett Compost, I got really excited! As a person who’s been recycling and composting for many years, I love hearing about Tim Bennett’s Philly composting business. He picks up his customer’s buckets filled with disintegrating vegetable remains by night (“our compost fairies come in the night and whisk away your food waste, leaving the empty container for you to retrieve in the morning”) and uses sites around the city to convert the stuff into usable, rich compost. Not only does the service help people to lessen their trash load, but reducing the amount of the methane that would normally be generated by the vegetable waste is huge. As the Bennett Compost website says “methane emissions from landfills are a leading contributor to climate change.” PLUS he employs teens in the neighborhoods where his composting sites are located to turn the steaming piles every week! It’s definitely a win, win, win situation!
Ryan gathered a bunch of ever useful free pallets and together Tim and farm crew members Que and Raheem constructed the bins at the Neighborhood Foods Farm. With Tim’s weekly vegetable scrap deliveries, coffee grounds collections and reserved fall leaves, the bins are really filling up. We’re looking for a willing neighborhood teen to do the turning.
Speaking of steaming piles, you can tell that the mounds at the Farm are indeed composting. A thermometer with a long probe inserted into the middle of one reads (click to enlarge) 140 plus degrees!
In a matter of weeks, the finished compost will get mixed into the soil to nourish the spring crops. We invite you to check out Bennett Compost and sign on for the service as a way to recycle your vegetable leftovers and to join Neighborhood Foods CSA to partake of the bounty of our locally grown food.
Your food becomes your food!
– Sue Witte, UTC’s volunteer coordinator
While preparing for the upcoming crop season, I had the privilege of sorting through our large seed collection. It turns out we have seeds going back to 2006. I was not sure how well those would do for planting. However, if you are a plant enthusiast such as myself, and interested in saving & collecting seed here are a few guidelines I found on the Ohio State University Extension page on seed saving:
Asian greens – three years
Bush and pole beans – two years
Beets – two years
Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Kohlrabi – three to five years
Carrots – three years
Collards, Kale – three to five years
Sweet Corn – one year
Cucumbers – three years
Lettuce – three years
Melons – three years
Parsley – two years
Parsnips– one year
Peas – two years
Radishes – four years
Rutabagas – three years
Spinach – one season
Swiss Chard – two years
Squashes – three to four years
Tomatoes – three years
Turnips – four years
The authors also mention that annuals are generally good for one to three years; perennials for two to four years.
Happy seed saving!
– Awinda Otieno-Pala, Horticulturalist, UTC staff
Of all the teamwork at Urban Tree, nothing can beat the workings of a bee. The two resident honeybee colonies of our farm have stayed strong and healthy through the 2012 season, pollinating our crops and gathering nectar which they use to make honey. After the loss of our hive last year, we got two new hives this March in the most unlikely way possible: through the U.S. Postal Service! The bees quickly settled into their new homes at 53rd & Wyalusing, raising thousands of young to prepare to collect the springtime nectar flow.
As the season progressed, the hive was a view into the variety of the urban ecosystem. In the cells of the honeycomb, the bees stored pollen in a range of yellow, orange and red hues. Seasonal flower variation also came through in the honey, with lighter honey in the early summer and darker honey in the fall. Sometimes the bees got defensive and stung the beekeepers intruding in their home. After a particularly swollen eyelid, we decided to invest in a bee suit.
With protective gear on hand, more staff joined the ranks of UTC beekeepers. Ryan helped with the springtime colony installation and Que overcame his fear of bees, leading many successful hive inspections throughout the summer.
The bees, in their highly organized mini-society, have taught us so many lessons about working together towards a common goal. Worker bees perform various jobs, from foraging for nectar to sealing up cracks in the hive to feeding the larvae. But when there is a need for extra hands (or wings) on deck for another job, the bees don’t hesitate to step up. At the height of summer, when the hive overheats, many workers stop what they’re doing to fan their wings at the hive entrance, circulating air.
Teamwork, initiative, diligence and flexibility are all essential characteristics found in our amazing team of farmers, landscapers, chefs, activists, librarians and teachers that keep our collective of gardens buzzing with energy. We left the bees with ample honey stores to survive the winter, and they leave us with much food for thought as we work towards building our own, cohesive, healthy community.
UTC’s Program Director
(Photos by Sue Witte and Robert Berliner)
A few days ago at the Farm we discovered that one of those Chapeu de Frade peppers, growing in great abundance on several huge plants (well, huge for pepper plants!), had turned an bright orangey-red. Que politely refused a taste but Skip, Raheem and I, curious to see if it differed from the lime green ones, divided it up. It was definitely sweeter but as we ate the flesh close to the seeds and stem, it was fairly hot!
I think we figured out where these plants came from, too. Eric Blasco, professional gardener and friend of UTC, helped us out with seed-starting this spring. He is a seed saver and is especially interested in heirloom vegetable varieties.
Everyone’s been wondering about the odd shaped peppers growing at the Farm. Que calls them mutants and Skip says they’re Martian peppers. Not only do they look like flying saucers but they’re growing on plants that are as big (and as wide!) as azaleas. The farmers – Ryan, Q and Raheem aren’t quite sure how they got there.
Trying to figure it out, I typed in “odd shaped peppers” at a google search. Looking through the images our mystery pepper was indeed there! Turns out it’s called Chapeau de Frade which means nothing in French or more correctly Chapeu de Frade which means “the friar’s hat” in Portuguese. Not surprisingly it’s a native of Brazil.
One of the online seed catalogs says: “This may be one of the most unusual peppers you can grow. Each 3-4 foot plant sets dozens of these UFO-shaped fruits at a time. They are 2-3 inches in diameter and turn from lime green to yellow to red orange. The flesh is mild and sweet. The heat is in and around the seeds.” And another mentioned, “The plants produce 30 to 50 extremely weird, 3 or 4 flat winged, wrinkled, almost flying saucer like pods. The flesh of each pod is thin athough crisp to taste and they mature from green to red in approximately 90-100 days.” The Latin name is Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum.
It looks like there are two varieties – one mild and one pretty hot. We must have the mild one because even the flesh around the seeds is only very slightly tangy. We’ve been crunching on them ourselves and offering them at our Neighborhood Foods stand at the Rittenhouse Market where everyone is loving the shape and the taste. When (and if) they turn red will they have some heat?