Reminder: We’re now taking orders for Yiftah’s bi-weekly baking. Please send your orders by Friday. Yiftah finishes preparing and baking the loaves next Wednesday, December 15th, and they will be delivered in the boxes of the 15th and 20th of December. You can read about Yiftah’s hand-baked, sprouted bread products here.
I wanted to write a festive newsletter in honor of the holiday, a holiday that respects and focuses on the light and warmth that fire brings to the wet, cold winter days before us. But present circumstances make this difficult. The wet and cold winter days are late in coming, and a blazing fire is killing people, destroying tens of thousands of acres of vegetation, and injuring houses and property as well. The victory of light over darkness seems more and more frightful over the past few nights, as our northern skies are lit by the illumination of the horrible fire.
So instead I thought that this week I’d tell you how the dry, warm winter is affecting us (as we fervently hope, wish and pray for this to change and for abundant rains to shower upon us, in proper quantities and well-spaced for good drainage in the field).
No major dramas are occurring in the field, thankfully, unlike the cataclysm of the fires, but its significance trickles, gathers and collects under the earth, and there will be long-term consequences for this growing season and the next. This drought is gradually but persistently drying us up, and the danger is great. When a fire occurs, it is compared to a barrel of dynamite ignited and exploded. In Israeli farm fields, it is about something a lot less volatile but not a lot better.
The main problem occurring now in the field is not one you can see in the beds or in your boxes. As you saw in last week’s photos, the vegetables are gleefully growing, the beds green and fresh, and the field is a sight for sore eyes. But all this is due to irrigation, which in normal times would have been long since shut off by now. This season we couldn’t even forego one round of watering, substituting it for heavenly rain, and the tubes are still using precious water for our vegetables. This is, of course, a huge problem. We do not have enough water in this country for winter irrigation. Israeli winter agriculture must be based on rain. In our farm it is possible to water the land, but many a non-irrigated field in the country is empty and barren, with wide-open dry brown landscapes awaiting a sign of rain in order to be seeded. So with no other option we irrigate, but it is a short-term solution, and so far there is no hope on the horizon.
Moistening the field by rain is very different than irrigation by dripping systems. The irrigation tube is a revolutionary invention, of course, that has brought about a significant reduction in the quantities of water needed for farming, especially critical and important in dry places like our country. But it isn’t natural- we’re scrimping and planning and holding back. It’s always a great relief when the rain comes and quenches the earth, scattering drops of wetness and dampness and life upon the entire earth, resurrecting the ecology above and below, which cannot maintain itself and bloom within the round, confined borders of the irrigation perimeter. A field after rain is one of great happiness and vitality and gladness of the heart, not only symbolically, but actually in a very physical way.
An example of the problematic difference between the irrigation drip and rain is the sprouting of seeds. Winter is full of seeded crops (as opposed to crops that are grown from transplant from the nursery): carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, parsley, coriander, dill and others- all seeded and in need of water to awaken the sprout within the seed, encouraging it to peek outside and germinate. Watering by drips cannot do this job sufficiently. The irrigation pipe can shift a bit and miss the seeds, the seeds sometimes need more water than the drip can supply, especially when the hot winds dry up the earth so quickly. We are experiencing a real problem with the sprouting this year: the first round of carrots did not sprout and other rounds require us to re-seed due to inadequate sprouting.
The heat is also influencing the growth of the cold-loving winter vegetables. Compared to the happy and large vegetables we are used to seeing in the beginning of winter, when it is raining but not too cold yet, this year our plants are finding it difficult to grow large leaves, which consequently leads to smaller root knots (turnips and carrots) or stems (fennel). The winter cold usually adds taste to the vegetables: spice to the radishes and sweetness to the beets and turnips. We’re still waiting for it this year.
And like the many viruses in the air awaiting a good wash (just ask the many folks who are suffering from colds and allergies), the diseases and pests are having a ball in our field. Our broccoli and cauliflower are sporting wounds we are used to finding in springtime, like the black mildew and the green leaves still look at times like a strainer. Rain and cold weather slow down the activities of fungus, bugs and other pests, which is why winter is usually bereft of these problems (albeit the vegetables also grow slower.) This year the gentle balance has been disturbed.
The holiday of Chanukah symbolizes a battle for national and religious identity, usually connected to a battle against others. The connection to yourself parallels the disconnection from outer sources. Perhaps this is how it should be, but maybe not. One of the most beautiful and heartwarming things that happened in this battle against the fire is the way so many countries came to our assistance (and not only friendly ones). Not only equipment and planes were sent, but also crews, people from Romania and also Bethlehem who came to help, willing to make the extreme effort – even endanger their lives – to rescue vegetation, homes and people. Perhaps this is because ecological disasters do not recognize political borders, as they impact us all: a tree planted in China improves the situation even in Israel, and a tree burning in Israel is bad for the Australians as well.
And perhaps, come to think of it, this is true not only for trees…
Wishing you a Happy Chanukah despite it all, and great wishes for cold and wet days to prevail upon us speedily and in our day.
Alon, Melisa, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
This week’s basket includes:
Monday: red beets, mustard greens or red mustard, tat soi, scallions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, daikon or turnips, sweet potatoes, parsley, lubia (cowpea) or yard-long beans
In the large box, in addition: lettuce or arugula, cabbage, peas, leeks
Wednesday: Lubia (cowpea) or yard long beans or peas, cilantro or parsley, cucumbers, green onions or leeks, tomatoes, carrots, radish, turnip, Swiss chard or spinach, kohlrabi, mustard greens.
In the large box, in addition: cauliflower or beets or cabbage, sweet potatoes, fennel.
Chanukah Latkes—Not Just Potatoes, and Not Just Fried:
Personally, I bake my latkes – 15 minutes at 180C degrees, turn them over, bake 15 min. more and then taste to see if 5-10 more minutes are needed.