Feeling Chilly?

Cloud 9 wants to warm you up with a handmade quilt! Cozy up this winter with a soft, garden-coloredquilt quilt, crocheted by one of our board members, expert gardeners, and long time resident of the apartment building hosting our flagship farm! Enter our raffle by donating today!

$5 = 1 ticket
$20 = 5 tickets
$50 = 15 tickets

Cloud 9 is committed to being community-driven organization. Members of the communities our gardens serve also serve as the organization’s leadership on the board of directors. The community members our farms serve are the experts on the nuanced role these gardens play in the civic life and ecosystem of the neighborhood.

Help Cloud 9 grow rooftop gardens and community-based leadership! We are working to raise $5,000 by December 31st and are one-third of the way there!! Donate here and be automatically entered to win this gorgeous quilt!

Drawing will be held January 2nd, 2017.

It’s Time for Thyme! An Herb Spotlight

Thyme Flowers

As autumn strips leaves in their fiery vibrance from tree limbs and chills the air with wrapping winds, we at Cloud 9 turn our attention to winterizing: preparing the rooftop and our bodies for the seasonal descent of the sun’s energy. One of our favorite plants to work with during this transition is the modest but resilient thyme (Thymus vulgaris, Thymus spp.), which helps bolster the immune system from the influence of cold, windy, and damp conditions (what the Chinese call “pernicious influences” in Traditional Chinese Medicine) (1).

This aromatic, woody shrub – of which there are more than 400 varieties – overwinters well as a low-growing perennial of the mint (Lamiaceae) family with small green leaves that bear a spicy, pungent fragrance. Native to the Mediterranean, thyme derives its Latin name from the Greek thyo meaning “perfume” or thumusmeaning “strength or courage” (2). The variety we’ve had growing on the roof is lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), which in addition to its spiciness from the constituent thymol, also has a relatively sweet lemon aromatic overtone from neural and germinal (4).

Thyme grows best in full sun and well-drained soils with a good supply of grit or rocks added. It tolerates dry conditions remarkably well – which we can attest to on the dry hot roof! As with other perennial woody shrubs, as the season progresses from spring to fall, the softwood growth that gives the stem its flexibility and bright green color turns rigid and brown as it becomes hardwood in the colder months. To maintain the plant well, prune the plant back in the spring by one third, clipping right above new growth where it appears (3). In the fall/winter, mulch over to protect the plant from winter damage.

Thyme can be propagated by seed and stem cuttings. To take cuttings, clip green softwood growth of 4-5 inches in length and remove the bottom third of leaves on the stem. Dip in a rooting hormone and plant in a well-draining material like perlite that has been adequately watered. Provide a plastic bag or lid cover to maintain humidity until the cuttings root in a couple of weeks (4).

Medicinally, thyme and thymol have been investigated in clinical trials for its antimicrobial properties – especially useful for inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth and throat. Thymol is one of the antimicrobial ingredients found widely in mouthwash Listerine. A tea made from thyme can be used as a gargle to receive laryngitis, tonsillitis, and sore throats; when drank, the tea as an expectorant helps encourage clearing of the lungs from heavy congestion, bronchitis, and laryngitis and its spicy pungent volatile oils act to alleviate gas in the digestive system and infections in the sinus cavities (5).

The next time you have a sore or itchy throat so common to the season, try making a fresh thyme gargle! Infuse 1 TB of chopped fresh or 2 tsp of dried leaves in boiling water. Allow to cool to a comfortable temperature and gargle! For extra oomph, try adding a tsp of sea salt.

For extended storage, dry fresh clippings of thyme stems in a paper bag until crisp and strip leaves from the stem and store in a jar in your cupboard until you’re ready for it.

Let us know how it goes!  Wishing you vibrant wellness and strength this season!

– Alyssa Schimmel, Cloud 9 Co-Farm Manager and Herbal Specialist

  1. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine by Ted Kaptchuk


The summer’s intensifying heat and sunlight have brought many plants into full, radiant expression on Cloud 9’s rooftop garden at Guild House West in Fairmount. This month, Cloud 9 kicked off our bi-weekly Summer Herbal Workshop series with residents, highlighting some plants including IMG_3789many common ones of the prolific mint (Lamiaceae) family like peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, spearmint, lemon balm, and shiso. During the first workshop, we harvested mint from the grounds and rooftop gardens, sampled the fresh herbs, spoke about the medicinal and culinary benefits of these plants, and made fresh mint infusions for residents to experience. (1)

For those eager to establish a useful and abundant kitchen and medicinal garden, mint family plants –  representing 3500 species in 180 genera worldwide – are among the easiest to identify, grow, and use. All mint family plants share certain botanical characteristics: distinctly square stalks, opposite leaves, and a rich supply of aromatic volatile oils – what gives mint family plants, such as popular culinary herbs rosemary, basil, marjoram, thyme, savory, and horehound, their characteristic spicy, stimulating and warming flavors. Mint family plants are easy to establish, too. Their tiny seeds germinate quickly, their vigorous root systems may be divided for establishing new stands of plants, and they’re largely tolerant of varying sunlight and watering conditions – making this family of plants an accessible one for the beginning and experienced gardener alike.

IMG_3829Medicinally, mint family plants are useful for their ability to stimulate and warm the body – increasing sweating which helps to cool the body while also serving to stimulate digestion and relieve gas and digestive cramping. As mint family plants heat the body, sweat can break the surface of the skin, carrying excess heat along with it, which is referred to by herbalists as the plant exhibiting a diaphoretic action. Diaphoretic herbs are especially useful in assisting with breaking fevers as the rich volatile oils exhibit an antimicrobial effect as they warm the body, allowing the immune system to fight off viruses and infections.  

Learning about and experiencing each plant individually – engaging all of your senses to touch, taste, smell, observe, feel the plant and observe its action in the body – is a useful way to get acquainted with new plants you may consider growing in your garden or adding to your home medicine chest. Allow us to introduce you to lemon balm, a plant that embodies the essence of summer’s warmth and brightness.   

Herb spotlight: Lemon Balm

As delicious as it is potent, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a herbaceous perennial belonging to the mint family whose bright, citrus flavor and scent, uplifting energy, and powerful volatile oils (citral, citronellal) make it a valuable ally to those of all ages needing support with restful sleep, comfort from anxiety, depression or nervous tension, digestive cramping, urinary troubles, headaches, and for those warding off viral infections or cold sores.

Native to southern Europe, the plant was brought to Spain by the Moors in the 7th century and by the Middle Ages was cultivated throughout Europe – with its earliest recorded use dating as far back as 300 B.C. in Theophrastus’s materia medica Historia Plantarum (2).

Today, it’s grown throughout much of the world favoring scrubby and sandy areas – from North America to New Zealand (2). Lemon balm is a fast growing plant that develops scalloped edged leaves on square-stalks with small, cream-colored, yellow, or pinkish fused flowers that are displayed in whorls. The plant prefers well drained soil and indirect sunlight, but can thrive just as well in full sunlight, as it does on the Cloud 9 rooftop, and can reach heights from 8 inches to up to 5 feet. Because it spreads vigorously and self-seeds, lemon balm makes for a great addition to container gardens.  Out in the garden, sturdy stands of lemon balm help to prevent against weeds, prevent soil erosion, and make for an attractive hedge.lemonbalm_f

Drawing its Latin name Melissa from the Greek meaning bee, lemon balm has long been associated with these pivotal pollinators. It’s been found that the plant constituent nerol in lemon balm is similar to nerolic acid in honeybees’ Nasonov gland, which helps bees communicate about food sources and hive locations. This association has earned lemon balm the common name ‘bee balm’ as bees can often be found fondly buzzing about it, though it’s  not to be confused with the other commonly known bee balm, Monarda fistulosa. ‘Balm’ in its common name refers to the plant’s oily, sweet smelling resins.

Medicinally, lemon balm has a wide expanse of historical and contemporary applications. Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493-1541) believed lemon balm to be an “elixir of life” that would strengthen one’s life force and Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) believed it to “driveth away melancholy.” Many contemporary herbalists rely on the plant for its actions as a nervine, mild sedative calming agent, antidepressant, mild antispasmodic, diaphoretic, and for its antioxidant properties that fight free radical or oxidative damage.  

Archetypally, I find this plant to be a great support for melancholic people with cold digestive disorders who believe their burdens are too much to share, overheated or irriated children, especially during recovery from illness/teething, and for those for whom restful sleep is difficult due to tension of the mind or spirit and feel caught in limbo of indecision.



High in vitamin C and rich in thiamine, the fresh leaves with all their aromatic lemony goodness can be incorporated into teas/beverages, baked goods, sorbets, savory meat, vegetable and fish dishes and more, as well as dried in a brown paper bag or on a clean windowscreen to be saved for later use.  

To make a simple infusion, cover 2 TB of fresh chopped leaves with boiling water and infuse for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy!

Or try this refreshing Lemon Balm Lemonade Cooler from the Good Earth Good Food Alliance (5): 4 lemons

1/3 cup fresh lemon balm leaves

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup boiling water

2 1/2 cups water


2-3 sprigs lemon balm for decoration

Scrub lemons, peel the rind thinly avoiding the white; set aside.

Place the lemon rind, lemon balm leaves and the sugar into a small heat-proof pitcher.  pour the boiling water into the pitcher and stir well, crushing the lemon balm leaves to release their flavor.  Leaves to infuse for about 15 minutes, let steep 15 minutes.

Cut lemons in half and squeeze out the juice.  Strain juice into pitcher, add a few fresh sprigs of lemon balm, add the cooled, strained syrup.  Top with water and ice.


What’s Up With Biochar?

Biochar is a simple soil additive that stands to alleviate a host of environmental problems. Biochar acts as a catalyst for improved soil health and can remain active in the soil for millennia!

Figure 1: Biochar structure (Cool Planet, 2015)

What is biochar?

Biochar is charcoal used as a soil additive. It is found in the form of powder or small chunks. By burning biomass (wood, grass clippings, manure, etc) at high heat with limited oxygen, charcoal is created with a strong grapheme structure. Graphene is a sheet of carbon rings, which join to look like chicken wire (see Figure 1). In this form, it takes thousands of years to break down.  (McLauglin, 2010, p. 69)

What’s all the hype about?

Biochar locks carbon into the soil that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. When burned properly, biochar is a carbon negative product!

Biochar strengthens microbial and plant life in the soil in two ways:

  1. By providing space for fungi and bacteria to grow,
  2. By attracting and holding water and essential nutrients, creating a moist and fertile environment for microbes and plants to thrive.

Soil improvements from biochar increase overtime because microbial life continues to grow, which in turn improves water and nutrient retention, and the ecosystem’s defense against pests and disease. Thus, overtime, biochar will decrease the need for fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation while growing healthier, more vibrant plants.


Volunteer mixing Wakefield Biochar into soil at Cloud 9

How do I use biochar?

Biochar should be allowed to soak up nutrients from compost or other available materials before adding it to soil. Because biochar is such an effective magnet for nutrients, it can lock up nutrients in the soil for a period of time if it is not introduced to the soil ecosystem with a network of microbes and minerals already enmeshed. (Wells, 2010, p. 40) Once biochar is inoculated with nutrients and microbes it is ready to be used as a top dressing, in potting soil, or tilled into your field. It is up to you how you choose to mix it in.

How does Cloud 9 use biochar?

On the roof of Guild House West, Cloud 9 is using a lightweight soil mix made of equal parts biochar, compost, and leaf mulch. Our mix uses biochar at a much higher concentration than we would recommend using in garden mixes less limited by weight. Biochar offers a lightweight structure for a healthy soil ecosystem to grow and thrive in within the weight requirements of a rooftop environment.

Radishes sprouting in our biochar mix

In a natural ecosystem, bacteria, fungi, worms, and other critters make the materials from dead plants and animals available to growing plants as nutrients. Our rooftop garden does not have access to a larger soil ecosystem, and so we must foster it within our growing containers. Biochar provides the structure within which bacteria and fungi thrive, which in turn supports the life of our crops, which support the health of our human bodies as the micro-organisms distribute nutrients throughout our ecosystem.

Want some biochar?

Order from Wakefield Biochar! High quality biochar sourced regionally!


The Science of Cool Terra ™ Biochar. Cool Planet Energy Systems. 2015.

Taylor, Paul (Ed.). (2010). The Biochar Revolution. Mt. Evelyn, Victoria, Australia: Global Publishing Group.

Additional Resources

Lehmann, Johannes, PhD. Biochar for Environmental Management: Science and Technology.

The International Biochar Initiative,

Fall Supper Club

For Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm, September ushered in our Fall Supper Club.  Seasonal supper clubs are always a fun time for Cloud 9 as we get to prepare a meal and develop community, but this was a particularly special event as it was our first event where we got to bring people up onto the roof! With our fence finally up, we can now host events and workshops up in the clouds.

Fall Supper clubFall Supper Club started with pre-dinner drinks up on our roof where friends and strangers alike could mingle and get to know one another. After drinks, we all moved down into the garden, gathering around communal tables to watch a demonstration led by Arielle Friedlander.  Arielle is a Philly local, certified Holistic Health coach who taught us not only how to prepare a meal but the healthy benefits of the ingredients used.  Our supper consisted of raw zucchini “pasta” topped with a mixed green pesto filled with kale, arugula, and basil.  Zucchini is one of those veggies where people either like it or they don’t, but surprisingly everyone seemed to like zucchini–maybe because it was spiralized. Spiralizing zucchini is done by using a simple machine that holds the zucchini while a blade thinly cuts into the zucc as you crank a handle to twist the zucchini around the blade.

The finished product has the texture and look of al dente pasta–but the best part is that it is raw plant full of fiber and bioavailable vitamins and minerals.

spiralized zucchini pumpkin truffles Pesto and zucchini

Why does bioavailable and raw matter?  Well most fruits and vegetables are perfect just the way nature gives them to us. They do not necessarily need to be cooked or heated; they can be enjoyed as is–raw. Food is considered raw if it is kept below 104-118 degrees Fahrenheit as it is believed heating up food past these temperatures changes the enzyme formation. The alteration of enzymes changes how our bodies digest food–making vitamins and minerals less bioavailable. Or in other words, less able for our bodies to absorb and use the vitamins and minerals.

After learning the health benefits of our supper and some spiralizing, we placed the mixed green pesto on top the zucchini pasta and voila, our Fall meal was prepared. For dessert, Arielle made pumpkin truffles. These tasty little morsels were healthy enough to eat four and not feel weighed down by processed sugar, which are the best kind of desserts!

While the meal was delicious and we learned new recipes and health tips, the most tantalizing aspect of the whole evening was the fellowship that came together. As Cloud 9 continues to make new friends and partners, we aim to share them (and the gifts they bring) with our larger community to build a healthy Philadelphia.

If you are interested in joining us, here are some upcoming events: come brew beer with us on October 20th at 6:30! Not only will you learn to brew beer from start to bottle, but you will also learn the chemistry behind it. Space is limited so get your tickets fast!

November 13th we will be having a pot-luck style Thanks Feast. Feel free to practice your Thanksgiving dishes and bring them to the party!