Friday, August 7, 2020

This past week we celebrated the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av. A minor holiday, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av is often referred to as a “Jewish Valentine’s Day.” Unmarried women would dress in white and dance in the vineyards and fields on this full moon evening. The men would watch and then have opportunity to choose their wife. As most Jewish holidays have agricultural origins, this joyous holiday marked the beginning of the grape harvest. Gardening by the moon cycles is still recognized in many communities and a principle of biodynamic farming.

It is said in ancient Israel that the women borrowed their dresses from each other. This is a great equalizing factor, that nobody would be ashamed they didn’t have nice clothes. It also has potential to confuse, intentionally or otherwise. Wearing another’s clothes makes it harder to know who is who.

Camouflaging oneself happens often in the natural world. It is a survival instinct. As gardeners, we have to figure out who and what we want in our gardens. We are often cultivating for a specific purpose and weeding out the unwanted.

It takes time to learn to recognize the effects of various critters, for example to know the signs of Japanese beetles eating through the leaves between the veins or to recognize the “shothole” damage from Flea beetles.  The best defense is specific to the situation and it’s not one size fits all.

The start of a harvest is cause for celebration. It is the culmination of the anticipation of the growing season. I must confess being home more during Covid has provided increased opportunity to gaze at my plants more regularly. Sometimes I feel like more observation only leads to more anxiety. I’ve had to remind myself more than once that seeds don’t germinate overnight, or that one leaf lost is often early enough detection to protect the rest of the crop, but it won’t happen immediately.

For subsistence farmers, a harvest celebration is the first big sigh of relief, only fully extended at the end of the harvest. In ancient Israel, Passover was the start of the barley harvest, and the cleaning out in preparation included thoroughly removing last year’s grain (and any moisture or disease) from the granary before storing the new crop. This cycle of growing, maintaining and harvesting repeats itself each year, and yet with increased knowledge and experience we build stronger and more resilient systems to increase our yield.

In this time of joyous ripening, may we all see harvests and cause for celebration.

Shabbat Shalom,

Leora Mallach
Co-Founder and Director
Beantown Jewish Gardens

י״ז באב ה׳תש״פ (August 7, 2020)