Let me introduce myself. I am Michael Schlesinger, a newbie to Rhode Island having arrived in 2012. I used to be a member of Temple Am David until it closed. I have been a member of Sinai for two years and I am very happy here. I am a Friday night davaner, I attend Saturday morning Torah study, and I go to the Rabbi’s Tuesday morning adult education classes.
When the Rabbi put out the call for assistance with the Biblical Garden, I answered together with Sherry Feldman. Sherry decided that she wanted me to be the lead gardener with her as my assistant. I have surveyed the Biblical Garden created by Catherine Walters, ז׳׳ל, and it is fascinating to see the plants, bushes and flowers she installed. I would have loved to have met her.
I have some background as a gardener. I was born before WWII and my mother had a Victory Garden until I was about eight years old. She grew a number of vegetables and I helped her. Every house that I have owned has had a garden. When I lived in California, I had a small vineyard (32 vines) and the wine produced, in a word, was “eh.” However, a friend of mine had a real working vineyard of several acres and I used to help him with his vines. The wine we produced was very good.
My neighbor, Bill Baddely, across the way from my house on Ocean Avenue in Cranston is a URI Master Gardener. I have asked if he could assist me with the Biblical Garden and he, together with his wife Jackie, are my consultants. After reviewing the garden with me, he suggested that we grow wheat and barley. Bill advised that he had some wheat seeds. Dottie from Sinai ordered some barley. You will now see two patches near the sidewalk in our Biblical Garden, about four square feet each, where we have planted these. The one closest to the walk is wheat and the one behind is barley. Bill also supplied flax seeds and the seeds have been planted in the patch near the crab apple tree.
After a consultation with Bill, we are also planning on planting a dwarf apple tree in the mound next to the grape vine.
There is a fig tree in the garden, but it is a kind that cannot survive our winters. So, on Bill’s advice, we are seeking a Chicago Fig Tree. Before we do any planting, we are going to test the soil to ensure that the trees will be able to survive and produce fruit.
Speaking of the grape vine, you will note that it is producing leaves and grapes. On May 1, I trimmed the grape vine so the number of wine shoots would be minimized. The reason for this is that you do not want a vine pumping out leaves; you want it to grow grapes. Also, when the leaves on a shoot reach 15, you cut off any leaves afterwards; again to produce good grapes with lots of sugar and if there are too many grapes on the vine, then the quality of the bunches decreases. When the vine is producing grape bunches, I will cover the vine with netting in an attempt to keep the birds from eating the grapes. In the fall, we will harvest the grapes and make wine. (I will supplement the crop with grapes which I will purchase from my wine supplier.) When we are harvesting the grape bunches, I will give a brief lecture on growing wine grapes. More on this later. If anyone wants to install a vineyard on their property, please contact me.
You will notice that I removed the weeds in the planting boxes. In one box, I transplanted all the Egyptian onions and it looks like they are thriving. Egyptian Onions are called “walking onions” and, if you looked at the garden before I did some weeding, you would have understood how Egyptian Onions reproduce themselves by literally walking through the garden. I also planted some potato onion bulbs in the same box as the Egyptian onions and some bush beans in the other planting box. Shoots should emerge soon have emerged and they are thriving.
I also planted a horseradish root, so, come Passover, we will have our own supply of bitter herbs.
The next blog entry will describe additional plantings and activities. For starters, besides making wine, we are going to harvest the wheat and barley to make bread. Of course, we will have to add flour, but we will address the bread making as we approach harvest. It is my goal to involve the congregation in harvesting and making wine and bread plus sharing the bounty of the garden with them.
I will endeavor to only use organic materials in the garden – organic mulch, fertilizer and weed spray. If you have questions or comments, speak to me when I am at Sinai.
Michael Schlesinger is Temple Sinai’s Biblical Gardener. Mike has been gardening since he was eight years old. He used to grow grape vines and make wine when he lived in California. He now tends to our garden, continuing the traditions started by Catherine Walters.