A collection of posts

For those who might have missed them, here are my most recent Mother Earth News posts:


Choosing a Milking Goat

“Many assume that a “good milker” means an animal with high milk yields. In fact, the milk yield forms only one part of the milker quality equation, the other two parts being the state of the goat’s udder and teats, and the animal’s temperament.”

Natural Winter Skin Care

“Winter is here, and with it cold, dry air, sharp winds, and chapped, cracked skin. This can be a real pain, especially for those of us who still have to tend to outdoor chores every day. Last winter I suffered from a very bad case of red, dry, painful hands and spent a fortune on expensive medical-grade creams and lotions, but this was before I fully discovered the wonders of coconut oil and shea butter and the satisfaction of making one’s own simple skin care products.”

Make Chicken Waterer From Old Bucket

“In the past we provided water for our flock of backyard chickens using all sorts of dishes, bowls, pans and buckets. These were stepped in, pooped in, upturned, and in general quickly resulted in a messy coop and thirsty chickens. The problem was exacerbated when we had to leave home for a couple of days – we could heap up the feed, but the water just wouldn’t last.

Then, after some experimenting, my husband made a simple, cheap, DIY waterer using an old paint bucket and a few waterer nipples.”

Incubators or broodies? Pros and cons of each choice for hatching chicks

If you are a backyard chicken owner, it is likely that at some point you will want to add new birds to your flock. You have, then, two main options: either you buy chickens or breed your own. The latter is more labor intensive, but also more self-sustainable and, I believe, very rewarding.


If you want to hatch some of your own chicks, you may do so by using an incubator or placing eggs under a broody. But which is preferable? Well, in my opinion, both options have their pros and cons.

Read my latest Mother Earth News post to find out what works for us.

“It was in the second year of our chicken-keeping that we felt the desire to increase our flock by means of adding some new chicks. We wanted to observe the entire process, from egg to softly chirping ball of fluff to productive adult egg-layer. We also felt that a truly sustainable flock maintains itself, by addition of a new generation each year, without us having to buy new pullets to replace aging layers.”

Updated: read Part 2 here.

Jewish homesteading: an interview

A while ago I was contacted by Tachlis magazine, who were looking for information on the Jewish homesteading movement. My email interview with them is below:

Where do you live exactly?

I’m sorry, but as our privacy is important to us, I cannot state our exact location. I can only say we live somewhere in the Shomron.

What is your homestead like?

I wouldn’t call what we currently have a homestead, precisely; I look at it, figuratively, as the seed of what I would like to have. Right now we have a small flock of chickens, a small garden and a few young fruit trees. I would like to have a large, productive garden and orchard, more chickens, and ideally some sort of a dairy animal. This way, we would provide a significant part of our own food.

In the meantime, we are doing what we can with what we have, and learning relevant useful skills in gardening, improving soil and raising animals. We used to keep dairy goats so I know how to hand-milk and make cheese, and can easily go back to it again.

Is there a community where you live? Is there a minyan?

Yes and yes. We have some wonderful neighbors around here.

How did you decide to homestead?

I don’t think it was a one-time conscious decision. We did know, even when we first married, that we wanted to live on a piece of land, not in an apartment building. We are just taking baby steps in a certain direction, and anything we have accomplished so far has been largely thanks to my husband: sometimes you just need to jump in with both feet, and he can do it much better than I. He was the one who brought home a box with our first chicks, and he was the one who decided on buying goats. He has also accomplished various complicated projects around the household I couldn’t have done myself.

What do you feel your family is gaining from homesteading?

Even though I wouldn’t refer to us a homesteaders just yet, we are learning a whole lot from growing plants, raising animals and working on a plot of land. Our children know the thrill of a newly hatched chick and a newly sprouted seedling. They know how an incubator works and where is the best spot to plant tomatoes. They know all sorts of things I wish I had learned as a child.


Above: Israel, 19 months old, loves to feed the chickens.

I think one of the best things in growing your own food is that the experience does something to every member of the family, regardless of age. You can all share the excitement of newborn baby goats – nobody is too young or too old for that. And when you go foraging for wild-growing goods, you are all equally satisfied when you come home with full containers.

Our lifestyle has brought us together with many wonderful like-minded people, which has been a terrific experience and an education in itself.

And, of course, those who “graduate” to growing and raising a significant part of their own food will reap the benefits of a healthier diet and reduced expenses.

Does homesteading help you connect to the Torah in a deeper or more personal way?

Yes, certainly. Jewish life and working on the land are closely intertwined. Many of the mitzvot specifically refer to agriculture: ma’asrot (tithes), Shmita (the Sabbatical year) and the holy status of the firstborn male, to name a few, and of course anything that has to do with humane treatment of animals. When you grow plants and raise animals, even on a small scale, you get to experience this first-hand, not just learn it in theory. Then there’s everything Shabbat-related, such as the restrictions of tending to the garden (you must do everything before Shabbat) and milking (you can milk so the animals don’t suffer, but not collect the milk). Also, as we’re into poultry especially, we have learned there’s some doubt about the kosher status of certain heirloom chicken breeds (in particular ones with an extra toe). We have found out so many things we would otherwise have had no clue about!

You can read more about homesteading and small-scale farming in Israel in this post.

Health and homesteading

Check out my latest Mother Earth News post: what happens when physical limitations stand in one’s way to self-reliant life.

“Even in our modernized age when almost everything is done at the click of a keyboard, being able-bodied is still an essential part of building your own house, starting a homestead, and keeping it going. But what do you do if certain health problems interfere with your homesteading goals? Should you accept that some things just aren’t meant to be – like building with your own hands, for example?

It is my belief that there is an alternative way to do pretty much anything, and even to profit from the seemingly untoward circumstances that might seem as a death certificate to your dream.”


Illustration: mid-renovations mess in our living room, just before our son Israel was born.

Why government won’t support homesteading: an opinion

Our society used to be mostly agricultural. It revolved around the nuclear and extended family, a close-knit community where people usually lived their whole lives, the family farm, the village, the artisan tool-maker, and everything small-scale and personal. For better or worse, the Industrial Revolution put an end to that kind of life and propelled us to a world where manual work is scoffed at, and agriculture is seen as something menial or boring.

Yet this did nothing to change our nature. As living beings, we were made to interact with other living beings. It is good and healthy for us to tread earth, smell flowers, pick fruit off trees, take care of animals, and make occasional escapes into wilderness. People who live in small apartments in big cities can find an outlet for this healthy instinct by growing plants in pots, keeping an aquarium and a cat, and venturing out to the country from time to time. The words “farm”, “country”, “rural”, “pastoral”, “village” still bring up pleasant nostalgic associations (compare them with the associations you get when you hear the words “factory”, “industry”, “rush hour”, “traffic” or “highway”), and some people even find out that they are inherently incapable of living the city life anymore, and drop their perfectly good jobs in order to cultivate a piece of rural land, such as in Marcel Pagnol’s splendid novel Jean de Florette.

We still yearn for the simple, cyclic, gentle and healthy rhythm which can be found in nature, the earth, and the seasons.

Some time ago, I picked up the Israeli Shabbat leaflet “Olam Katan” (“Small World”) and was genuinely interested by an article which suggested that modern technology and means of transportation make small-scale farming/homesteading possible even for people who don’t want to, or can’t make this their main source of livelihood. It is entirely possible, the author argued, for a family where both spouses hold a regular job to also keep a small homestead on, say, on 1 square km of land. Such a homestead can include a barn with 3-4 dairy goats and a dozen chickens, a small vegetable garden, and some fruit trees. Furthermore, it was argued that Israel has enough unexploited land which is suitable for agriculture. Such land, according to the author, could be divided into small homestead plots and handed out or sold inexpensively to anyone who would like to start a homestead or a sustainable small-scale farm. Thus many more people can live a healthier, closer-to-nature life, while also creating a strategical advantage for Israel by preventing Bedouin clans from illegally taking over empty lands.

While I would like, and am ready, to believe that a small-scale farming/homesteading revolution is possible, I also think the only way for it to happen is by individual people making the change in their private lives. I don’t think it will ever be encouraged or supported by the government, for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1. The government will never, not in a million years, hand out land or sell it cheaply (if it did, I’d be the first to stand in line!) – it will reap big bucks by selling land to big contractors, who in their turn will reap their big bucks by erecting tall buildings with cramped over-priced apartments.

2. Small-scale farming/homesteading will never be encouraged on a government level because commercial-scale farmers hold too much power.

3. A family living on a homestead will very likely have a rewarding, satisfying life; the more they grow, the less they will buy, not only in the way of food, but also in other areas. Shopping will no longer be needed as a recreation. They will move away from the temptation of big stores and shopping centers. In the evening, they will hurry home to milk their goats and water their tomatoes. Such people, for psychological and logistic reasons, are more likely to buy only what they need, which means the government will lose money by way of taxes each of us automatically pays when we buy in a licensed store. People who succeed in their little homestead venture might also discover they like it so much they will possibly opt for a less demanding, lower-paying job and enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle – and then the government will lose money by way of income tax. Some economical guru up there is bound to figure it out, and the government will never – not in a million years – agree to lose money, even for the sake of promoting a healthier and happier society.

4. A homesteading/small scale farming network will encourage the development of a local, sustainable market based on barter and small unregistered sales – the government won’t want this to happen because this will, again, mean less taxes.

However, it is a joy for me to know that other people, like me, indulge themselves in dreams of a world where families work together, more food is produced locally, and giant chain stores are cheated of part of their profit because people realize they don’t need so much stuff.

Small-scale farming in Israel: reclaiming the land

In the course of history, many Jews have become very much detached from their Biblical agricultural past with its complex laws connected to seasons, years and the Holy Land. In modern Israel, agriculture was reclaimed to a certain extent, but it is generally highly commercialized, industrialized and mass-scale. The urban and suburban areas are very densely populated, leaving people little space for home gardens and a personal connection to the land.

There is, however, a rising movement – in particular among Orthodox Jews living in the less populated areas of Israel – of small-scale, organic, family-run farms, oil presses and wineries, belonging to people who have seized the opportunity to till their own gardens, pasture their own sheep, make their own wine, and embrace – with modern innovations that make life easier, of course – the Biblical version of living off the land.


Image: typical view of terraced hills and olive trees 

And of course there are people like us, who don’t really aim towards doing anything on a commercial scale, but want to grow or raise a significant part of their own food, and see this as an opportunity of being good stewards of the land and resources we were given.

So what makes an Orthodox Jewish homesteader or farmer in Israel different from any other homesteader or farmer? Generally speaking, it’s adherence to the Halacha – the Jewish Law – with the specific Biblical rules and regulations pertaining especially to the land of Israel.

Disclaimer: what I have written below describes the relationship between the Jewish farmer, the Jewish law and the land of Israel in the broadest terms; if you wish for detail, there is plenty of further information out there. We are not a rabbinical authority, nor are we mistake-proof.

Shabbat – No working the land, moving plants, picking or watering is allowed on the Shabbat day, which starts on Friday at sunset and lasts until Saturday nightfall. An automatic drip system is a good gardening solution, but we don’t have that in parts of our garden, and we have to water manually there. Last week, a tomato plant died because we had a very hot Saturday and couldn’t water until nightfall, by which time it was much too late.

The Sabbatical year – Unlike the Shabbat, which is observed by Orthodox Jews around the world, the Sabbatical year applies to Israel only. Every seventh year, the land is supposed to rest, which means no tilling, no planting, no working the land in any way. Gardening in containers is allowed, as is basic plant maintenance (such as, watering the trees so they’ll survive) and, with certain restrictions, picking produce. It is also possible to nominally sell the land to a non-Jew just for the year, which makes it possible to work it as usual, but the latter is less practical for backyard gardeners and owners of small homesteads.

Tithing – Jews are required to give a tithe out of their agricultural produce. This means that even if we grow one single tomato, we are under obligation to set aside part of that tomato. Since it is impractical to seek out needy people and offer them one slice of a tomato, backyard tithes are usually just set aside and respectfully disposed of.

The firstborn male – when we kept goats and had one of our does kid for the first time, with a little buckling, we were surprised to discover that this little male goat does not in fact belong to us, but instead should be given to a Cohen (priest). However, since we do not have a Temple today and much of the original function of priesthood had been temporarily lost, such a gift cannot be really used (butchered, purposefully used for breeding, etc). Too late, we found out that what we were supposed to do was nominally sell part of the pregnant doe to a non-Jew, to avoid such a complicated situation. In the end the little buckling was shipped off to a petting zoo.

Regional conflicts and safety – Because of the ongoing Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel, the Jewish homesteader or farmer living on an isolated hill somewhere, or in the middle of the desert, is in a precarious position. To put it bluntly, if you hear an intruder in your farmyard in the middle of the night, you have no way of knowing whether their principal purpose is stealing your sheep or murdering your family. Therefore, the only reliable way for Jewish farmers and homesteaders to protect themselves is to shoot first and ask questions later. Fortunately, after the Shai Dromi acquittal, the law is on the side of honest men who take up arms to protect their lives and property.

Some will say that such local, small-scale homesteading and farming ventures are impractical, labor-intensive and complicated, and that it’s simpler and cheaper to just buy what you eat from big farmers, or import produce, but I disagree. Money is not everything, and nothing beats the satisfaction of eating real food grown by real people living on the land they love.

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