Somehow and suddenly, the summer is closing out and it’s Elul. It’s always a bittersweet time of year for me, saying goodbye to low-key summer life and sending kids back to school, whether in person or virtually. This year, of course, is different, with COVID-19 having reshaped so many of our summers, canceling or limiting simchas, family get-togethers, and travel.
Like many people, since I have to be at home, I’ve been focused on making home the place I want to be. We finally got pictures framed and hung that we’ve been procrastinating on not just for months, but for years. We’ve also tried to make the most of our outdoor space, which has meant gardening projects. In addition to the table-top garden I made so I could see more plants and flowers out my kitchen window, I’ve invested more effort working with the herbs and vegetables in the container garden I have on my back porch. Most of my plants are in the kind of five-gallon buckets that food comes in for schools and restaurants, although a few are planters that needed a new home.
In addition to the fact that homegrown vegetables and herbs taste better, growing any part of your own food is a positive low-waste change. Carrying tomatoes and herbs from the porch to the kitchen cuts out all the energy it would take to transport tomatoes from Florida or California or even other countries all the way to Cleveland. I just bring the harvest down in a colander or my hands. Every Friday for weeks has found me picking a cup of basil leaves (I plant a lot of basil!) to make a special vegan pesto dip for Shabbat that is a huge hit with my husband.
Parve (Vegan) Pesto Dip
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and checked
- ¾ cup raw cashew pieces
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ to ½ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Process first four ingredients in a food processor until a thick paste forms.
Step 2: Add olive oil in splashes, processing between each splash until you reach the desired consistency. I use ⅓ cup, which spreads well on challah and vegetables.
Step 3: Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Store refrigerated and in an airtight container.
You may even find that your kids are more willing to eat things they’ve had a hand in growing. (Sadly, this is not true for the Smith children, but I’ve heard it works from other parents.) Even if their kids don’t eat anything from the garden, parents who involve their kids in growing things for food get all kinds of opportunities for basic science lessons and lessons about the wisdom and kindness HaShem’s put into creating His word. Years ago, a friend pointed out to her young son how HaShem gives plants signs to tell us when they are ready to eat: apples and tomatoes change color; nectarines and peaches get softer. I like to think about that when I am eating a fruit or a vegetable, what a chesed it is from HaShem that he made “the earth sprout vegetation: herbage yielding seed, fruit trees yielding fruit each after its own kind, containing its own seed on the earth.”
Food I grow is definitely less likely to go to waste than food from the grocery store. I guess after I’ve invested in the planting and growing, wasting homegrown items seems like such a loss. That isn’t to say that I’m perfect. This year, I missed the mark, neglecting to harvest all of my cilantro before the plants “bolted.” Instead I have both green and brown coriander seeds to use in cooking. (It’s relatively simple to dry most herbs or to freeze them, mixed with some olive oil in ice cube trays. Throw the frozen cubes in a baggie in the freezer, and they’ll be ready to use in recipes throughout the fall and winter. Basically, I am making my own Dorot herb cubes!) I’ve also dried sprigs of lavender I want to use in a project I’ll have time for once Cleveland’s weather makes it less pleasant to be outside, and I’ll harvest my sage and dry it in the next few days.
Elul is full of possibility. It’s a time to work on teshuva and making sure my balance of mitzvos and acts of gemilut chasadim is as robust as it can be when the Yamim Noraim arrive. I’m carrying that idea into the garden, so I planted some fall crops for the first time ever. An article at ourlittlesuburbanfarmhouse.com gave me great advice on what to grow in late summer with clear explanations that didn’t require me to be a gardening expert to understand them. If you are in the United States, you can also check out the National Gardening Association’s tool which will give you info on which vegetables can be planted when in your hardiness zone.
Once I had purchased my seeds, I cleared out two pots that had held dill (all harvested) and two pots of bolted cilantro and planted spinach and peas. Checking on my little shoots gives me hope I’ll be eating from my garden for another six weeks or so. And what a powerful lesson for this time of year: there is still time before Tishrei to start fresh, to take on something new, to have something more to show HaShem when He wants to know what I’ve done in this time of COVID-19.
Coming back down to earth, even if I don’t have peas to harvest, the leaves themselves are edible. Again and again, I see how much chizzuk HaShem gives me when I take the time to understand how His world works. I’ll keep the lesson of the peas in mind the next time I feel like something isn’t perfect because I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do.
In addition to fall planting, I decided to pay special attention to the fact that HaShem did indeed make plants that create their own seeds. With a little effort, I can plant much of next year’s garden from seeds out of this year’s. Saving seeds from things like dill and cilantro is a snap. I just cut off the seed heads, allowed them to dry, pulled the seeds loose, and then packaged them and marked the envelopes for next year. (This is a great way to use those extra business reply envelopes you don’t send out.)
I have so many seeds that I’m able to share with friends and other gardeners (look on Facebook to find a seed-sharing or plant-sharing group near you). Whatever you are growing, you’ll find tips for harvesting and sharing seeds with a quick Google search. So far, the biggest job has been with my tomato seeds, which require a few extra steps (one of which didn’t smell that great) to maximize the chance that they’ll grow next year. Although I’m growing my plants in containers, the work to plant and weed and water and harvest reminds me that Elul is the time that the King is in the field. He comes not to the gate of the palace and not to the place where important people meet, but davka into the field, into the place where we connect most closely with HaShem’s physical world. As a beautiful article I read recently put it, “We might still be in the field, but the field has become a holier place.”
Click here to see the full list of changes I’ve blogged about, and their impact.