Miraculous Oil

As of this early Tuesday morning, we’ve lit the menorah (or chanukiyah if you want to be picky) for two nights. In addition to olive oil for lighting, we’ve got plenty of canola oil for frying donuts and latkes, and I’ve been using yet another miraculous oil of late. But to tell you about it, I have to back up a few months to my last blog post, all the way back at the end of April, and explain why I haven’t posted in so many months. 

Something very exciting happens in May in Cleveland: it’s gardening time. Our average last frost date is April 30, so May is time to get busy pulling out pots, enriching soil with compost, and getting tiny seedlings (often called “starts”) that have begun life inside the house ready for the big wild world. 

This fuzzy image is still clear enough to see my repurposed container greenhouse, where I’m growing lettuce directly in the bag, and repurposed trash cans. We had more tomatoes than we could eat! In the background you can see the gardening table Mr. Smith built me from lumber reclaimed from our old deck.

For many years my gardening for food (primarily tomatoes, peppers, and herbs) has been confined to the upstairs patio I access from my bedroom. We have a lot of shade in the backyard and many marauding deer who mow down landscaping like it’s a deluxe salad bar. I use a spray called Bobbex that a former neighbor now living in Israel recommended to me for my ornamental shrubs and plants. But it works by making the plant taste bad (there’s also an offensive smell that is detectable by deer), so it’s obviously not something I want to spray on my tomatoes and basil plants. Thus, in-ground gardening hasn’t been an option for me. How bad could the deer be? They are relentless. If I miss a week spraying my front and back yard, they will immediately jump on the opening, and in the morning, I’ll find plants bitten right down to the ground. I even have to bring my bird feeder in at night because they will stand on their hind legs and empty it in hours! But wanting to source more of our summer produce closer to home than the grocery store, I hadn’t given up hope of expanding my possibilities. 

A Small Favor

I’m reasonably certain that my husband’s least favorite words are “Honey, I have an idea,” as there’s a good chance it means he will be pulling out the tools and giving up several hours of his Sunday. With this in mind, I couched my request to build a gardening enclosure in the backyard as a combined birthday/Mother’s Day present. I also pointed out that since it was sefirah, he couldn’t play his guitar or write music, so really, I was doing him a favor by keeping him busy. 

Once the gardening enclosure was up, about three weeks after Pesach, I got swamped. While I was doing lots of low-waste things—making a mini greenhouse for lettuce from a clear storage container without a lid my neighbor was getting rid of, repurposing unneeded trash cans to be oversized tomato containers, adding a third compost bin to the yard, made from yet another garbage can)—I couldn’t make time to write about doing low-waste things. 

Gardening, reading about gardening, and Googling about gardening took up huge chunks of time this summer, time that I would have spent writing for the blog. And then the chagim came, including my son’s bar mitzvah on Shabbos chol hamoed Sukkos, so there went any hope of creative time to write. 

The Foreign Invaders

We had the bar mitzvah at our house, men in the sukkah and women in a tent we had set up in the backyard. Accordingly, I had the gardening enclosure cleaned up, plants cut down and mixed into the soil or thrown into one of the compost bins, and everything tidied up so that guests weren’t greeted by a messy site as they entered our yard. Soon after that, it began to get cold, and I decided to bring some plants in to overwinter in the hopes of starting ahead of the game: two Tobasco peppers, one cayenne pepper, and a pot of mint. (It’s important not to plant mint in the ground as it spreads quickly and is almost impossible to eradicate once it’s well established.)

Neem plant. Photo by Deanna Arts via Unsplash.

I set up a few full-spectrum lights to mimic sunlight for the new plants (my existing house plants were delighted) and went back to focusing on work and home and kids, stopping by the plants periodically to give them water. I noticed that the mint was looking poorly, but I figured it was just adjusting to life inside, perhaps to the dryness of the air. Unfortunately, by the time I took a close look and noticed it actually had a bad case of spider mites, it was too late to save it. Even more upsetting, these mites, tiny eight-legged creature that appears to the naked eye as a small dot, had spread to three nearby plants. 

I knew from reading gardening books, particularly those that focus on organic gardening, that Neem oil is a natural miticide that doesn’t pose the same dangers as the chemicals commonly used in gardening. When I read more about it, I immediately thought of the teaching we learn from so many places in Tanakh that HaShem sends the refuah (the cure) before the makkah (the illness). An oil from the pressed fruit and seeds of the neem tree, native to India and the wider region, Neem oil is an antiseptic, an antifungal, an antipyretic (like ibuprofen), and an antihistamine. Truly a miracle! After treating the plants every three days with a few drops of neem oil on each leaf, my spider mites are no more, and my affected plants are recovering from their erstwhile invaders. 

May we all merit to see miracles upon miracles and blessings upon blessings this Chanukah! 


You can click to read my other posts about gardening and its role in my low-waste life. My blog is also indexed by subjects such as yom tov, cultivating a low-waste mindset, and helpful purchases on my archive page

Click here to see the financial impact of low-waste changes I’ve made.

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