(Note: This piece originally ran on 1/24/13 in the Washington Jewish Week). Did you know Tu B’Shevat coincides with Shabbat this year and starts tonight? A January Tu B’Shevat is one of the first signs that the Jewish holidays will come early this year. You may have heard that the first night of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving this fall. We will have to stay on our toes and keep our Jewish calendars close at hand in 2013.
It’s not just the Jewish calendar that seems to be coming fast this year. Spring is on its way to Washington early too. Friends are already reporting bulbs emerging in their gardens, rosemary plants flowering and even a purple crocus. While some years we really have to use our imagination to envision flowering trees on Tu B’Shevat, this year we can be a bit more literal and find actual signs of spring in our area.
Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of trees in Israel and the time that the almond trees burst into full bloom and many people plant trees. Tu B’Shevat is a great time to think about what trees offer and to teach children a little bit about ecology, gratitude and Israel. Trees hold soil down to prevent erosion, clean our air and provide fruit, habitat for animals, shade and beauty. Here in the Washington area, it is too early to put tender saplings in the ground. We can still have plenty of snowy weather ahead. But it is a great time to go outside with children, search for signs of spring and do some tree related activities.
Some people recommend planting parsley seeds on Tu B’Shevat with hopes of using the parsley as part of the Passover Seder. This is a very nice idea, but as a farmer, I know that parsley is very difficult to germinate even with a professional set up. It might be more rewarding to plant seeds that are more likely to offer instant gratification by sprouting quickly. Green beans or sunflower seeds are favorites for planting with children. Young children will enjoy labeling their plants and checking on them every day.
On my family’s farm we have a very young fruit orchard that always needs attention this time of year. Some of the trees need to be tied up and others need to be mulched. Since the holiday falls on Shabbat this year, we will not work on the orchard. The holiday will still be a good time to take a walk on the farm and inspect the trees. As of now, they are predicting a cold day for Tu B’Shevat, we might even have snow on the ground. That is good, because locally our fruit trees need a minimum number of cold days and nights before they can flower and set fruit. So if it is too cold for a family hike, remember it might be just the kind of day fruit trees need. Weather you get to synagogue for a full Tu B’Shevat Seder or just manage to appreciate the trees around your neighborhood, I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday.