Last week we celebrated Tu B’Shvat as all of this blog’s readers know. This celebration is for the New Year of the Trees and the start of the first signs of spring. This occasion marks another time of year that is in syncopation with the agricultural rhythms of the land. During this time, the sap in the tree starts to flow upwards from the soil and roots into the trunk, branches, and leaves finally bursting forth the newest buds of spring. The Tu B’Shvat seder reminds of the natural rhythm of the seasons represented by the four cups of wine all with differing tints of color. In Israel, the flowers are coming out, most famously the Almond, with its white-pink hues is always a sure sign that spring is on its way.
This Tu B’Shvat, volunteers and community members of Beer Sheva worked in the field for a week of work creating an Urban Orchard. This Urban Orchard is the start to the Urban Farm. The volunteers worked hard all week digging swales and trenches in line with the natural contours of the land. The purpose to dig the system of trenches and swales is to provide a water catchment system on the land. Many times in the Beer Sheva semi-arid environment, there is a downpour of rain. Much of the rain is lost to the sewer systems because of run off. The soil type “Loess” is high in clay content; therefore, the water has a difficult time absorbing into the underground aquifers. The system of trenches and swales is meant to catch the water and encourage drainage into underground aquifers. The increase of this water can increase the overall abundance of a particular piece of land.
At the lowest point of the land we created a Leman. This is a landscape feature that takes advantage of the flood of water at the lowest point during a heavy rainfall in a landscape with relatively high run off rate. The water collects at the lowest point of the land for a period of time and slowly seeps into the aquifer below.
The Nabateans who were expert water engineers in the Negev, masters of the Spice Road, and expert desert farmers applied both of these practices. We at Earth’s Promise learned from these practices and applied them to our Urban Orchard. In addition to the soil that barely allows water to seep into the underground aquifers, our city environment with asphalt and hard surfaces is another important reason why the Urban Farm and Urban Orchard must be planned in a manner that utilizes the most amount of water that falls naturally.
Although signs of spring are starting to appear, we are still enjoying the winter rains and last week was no exception. Throughout the week, there were downpours that proved that these methods are effective at achieving their goals. The proof came with those rains, as the land we had previously worked and dug absorbed the water very well as opposed to the areas that we hadn’t dug yet showed that water was collecting on the surface and made small pools all over the landscape. As though a blessing from above, on the last day of the week when the work was finished and just before the Shabbat, a massive rain downpour started and didn’t stop until the next morning.
On Sunday morning, when I went to check the Urban Orchard, it was apparent that our hard work paid off. There were no small pools as there had been earlier in the week, and all of the water was gathering at the lowest point of the land, slowly seeping into the underground aquifer.
I think the most meaningful part of the week was the last day, when a local neighbor “Abraham” showed up to plant the first tree of the Urban Orchard. He was a man of about seventy years and he helped all of us young folks. His work was even the most beautiful of all of ours. It was fitting that “Abraham” planted the first tree in the Urban Orchard in Beer Sheva, like our forefather Abraham who also planted a tree in Beer Sheva when he settled here.