Sunday, October 18, 2015

After the harvest and the Shemittah year

Today, under a brilliant blue sky and cool temperatures, we pulled the last of the tomato plants out, disengaged the old cucumber vines and even managed to find a few stray onions buried underground, in perfect eating condition. It's a little bit early to clean out the garden here, but with the El Nino bringing more humidity, more warmth and therefore more insect pressure, I thought it was wise to plow it all down and throw some chicken manure on top of it all before leaving it for winter, a gift to the earthworms and other bugs who live under the soil.

I also decided that I'm going to practice my own modified version of what's called the Shemitttah year in the Torah. It's an agricultural mandate to let the land rest in the seventh year of production. As it's stated in the Book of Leviticus,

"God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a sabbath to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a sabbath of sabbaths for the land."

I've expounded on the virtues of the idea of Sabbath -- for both religious and secular reasons -- on this blog before, and I'm sure you realize (if you've been reading this blog awhile) we've technically only been on this land for three summers. It's not a Shemittah year in any way....except of course, for the farmer. That would be me.  I have been growing a good portion of our food since around 2008, when I planted our first raised beds in our garden back at the old house. And I've been canning our produce each fall and winter since that time as well. 

I'm actually overdue for a good Shemittah by a couple of years now.

 During that time, a lot has changed, including me working more outside the home during summer and fall, (prime growing and canning time, but also busy season at the winery) and our kids going off to college, changing our food storage needs considerably. This last summer was crazy, trying to keep up the garden and my job, and I still have 40 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer to can as proof of that. I'll get to it before the end of the year, hopefully once the summer is gone for good and a boiling water-bath canner heating up the kitchen is seen as a friend, not an enemy.

And so my version of this Shemittah year will mean leaning out from the vegetable garden from this fall to next, and reassessing exactly what our needs are now that we have only two of us at home on a regular basis, and now that we also live in a place where we eat elsewhere a fair portion of the time. 

Normally right now, for instance, I'd be planting my carrot crop in earnest. But as of this writing, I still have a freezer full of carrots from last year which we haven't even started eating yet. So clearly I don't need carrots. Carrots in 2016 will be a Shemittah crop for us, then. I won't be growing them.

I will be growing a little lettuce and some onions, both super easy crops to maintain (meaning zero maintenance). I will be pruning and caring for our berry vines, our grapes and our fruit trees in spring because they need it, and if we get an abundant harvest I will gladly take it, because we got almost nothing last year (guess the berries took their own Shemittah year in 2015). Come spring, I will be planting something in the raised beds as well, it just won't be nearly to the extent I have in years past. I may have one raised bed's worth of produce. Probably an eggplant or two, one squash, three get the picture. Farming Light. 

It's time for this farmer to take a break and have her Sabbath from the vegetable garden. Time for the land to exhale and rest, too. And in another three years, it may be time for a true Shemittah year where both the land and I take a good rest, but this time it's not so much for the land itself as much as the farmer. 

There will still be plenty of homesteading stuff (and blogging) going on around here -- soap making, cooking from scratch, eating abundantly from the over-storage we've managed to accumulate in the last few years, and finding new ways to continue turning our space from a zone of consumption into a zone of production. 

But everything needs a rest; even God rested on the "7th Day."  I am looking forward to my 2016 "Petite Shemittah," a sabbath for this farmer but not a dogmatic one as much as an acknowledgment that everything, including ourselves, needs a rest sometimes. 


  1. I would call this burnout insurance and very, very wise. We all need breaks to cultivate new inspiration and reconnect with the soul of our hobbies vs the practice. If that makes any sense. Disconnect from the drudgery and reconnect to the passion is how I see it. Not to imply that I think it's *really* drudgery, but sometimes even things we love can feel that way. I will find the specific post soon, but a blog I discovered only on its last post was the very talented Miriam at Mucky Boots Farm covered this topic. You may have stumbled upon her blog sometime as she was a frequent CAF commenter at one time. Anyway, you might enjoy sifting back through her blog as she discusses burnout and reassessing growing/preserving needs frequently.

    1. Oh, I would absolutely love to see that blog. Yes, I guess I am practicing burnout insurance -- great term. It's funny, this is a topic that's come up a lot recently with several friends (coincidentally or not!). Doing anything without time away will burn you out, even if you live the best life imaginable. That's why even happy people go on vacation! OK I am off to look up that blog now. Thanks for the tip!