Tree Planting Season in KKL-JNF’s Eshtaol Nursery

Sunday, January 10, 2021 8:00 AM

"If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live." – Albert Einstein

Ahuva Daniel, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Eshtaol Nursery. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
In Israel, cooler nights and shorter days are unmistakable signs that autumn is here. Autumn also means that the first rains are falling and that the tree planting season is moving into high gear. Activity abounds in KKL-JNF centers countrywide to meet the demand for new plants and get the various forest clearings ready for planting.

“We are always busy, but this by far is our most intense period”, said Ahuva Daniel, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Eshtaol Nursery near Beit Shemesh. “Public organizations that need new trees are eager to get their saplings as soon as possible. We have already started distributing trees to the honey farmers, according to a long-standing agreement we have with the Israel Honey Board. And shortly, other organizations that ordered plants will begin arriving to pick them up, including municipalities, local councils, schools, IDF bases, and so on. The distribution will continue and intensify towards Tu Bishvat.”

Seeds germinate and become sprouts. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

Tu Bishvat, which falls this year on the 28th of January, is the Jewish arbor day festival also known as Chag Ha-Ilanot or ‘The New Year for Trees’, and also marks the traditional date when KKL-JNF foresters begin transporting the soon-to-be-planted saplings to KKL-JNF forests around the country.

Nurit Hibsher, Director of the KKL-JNF Central Region Forest Department, explained that forest trees are planted relatively late in the season because the ground is more likely to be moist by then, making it optimal for planting.

“Israel has an arid climate. Unlike [urban] trees that are planted by municipalities and other [public] organizations, who supply adequate and often sophisticated irrigation to keep the plants alive and thriving, forest trees require a lot of natural watering. Planting trees in nature is a very sensitive matter,” Hibsher said. “Obviously, the best time to plant is in the autumn or early winter, but never before the first rainfall. We want the ground to be moist. Before planting we soak the saplings in water for 48 hours and after planting we pray for rain. What is important is not the amount of rain but rather its distribution over the season. Often we need to irrigate broadleaf saplings with our watering trucks once or twice after planting. The pines take care of themselves.”
Rows of growing saplings. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

The decision regarding what types of trees to plant in the KKL-JNF forests of the central region is made by Hibsher and her team. “Choosing which trees to plant, and where, is a very meticulous process. We examine the soil and the lay of the land, and always try to match it with the species that are endemic to a particular area. Unlike in the past, we don’t plant wherever we can to create blanket tree cover. Today we have a very strict forest management policy. All these decisions are carefully made well over a year before planting takes place so that we can locate the seeds and then have them treated and sprouted in the nursery.”

The seeds are sourced in nature by a small team from the Seed and Nursery Department of KKL-JNF's Afforestation Division. “We are the researchers who roam the forests of Israel in search of seeds from the finest trees,” said Hagay Yablovich, Seed and Nursery Department Manager. “Our goal is to reproduce beautiful but resilient and sturdy trees that can survive long periods of dry weather. We identify those trees and collect their fruit. At the seed center in Beit Nechemia, we extract the seeds from the fruit. We then clean, sort, and weigh the seeds before storing them in a refrigerated room to await delivery to a KKL-JNF nursery somewhere in Israel. The seeds are then planted in special pots where they germinate and grow into saplings. The whole process takes at least 9-12 months and is carefully controlled”.

Watch a video - Tu Bishvat 2019 in Eshtaol Nursery:


Heads of the KKL-JNF departments connected to plant production and afforestation said that while the COVID-19 pandemic did interfere with their work routine to some extent, it did not affect plant output at all.

“Every year at the KKL-JNF Nursery in the Central Region, we produce between 250,000 to 300,000 saplings,” Ahuva Daniel said. “The only difference this year is that because of the Corona issue, it appears that we will only end up distributing 176,000 plants. This is probably because the Coronavirus has caused many municipalities and local councils to lack the funds this year for preparing the ground and creating the conditions to plant new trees. For instance, the Gush Etzion Regional Council alone had intended to take some 80,000 saplings and then they backed out. However, planting in KKL-JNF forests will proceed as planned.”
Young sapling ready for planting. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

The biggest KKL-JNF planting operation in the central region will take place this year in the Ben-Shemen Forest where, in 2019, a devastating wildfire consumed over 500 acres of trees, together with most of the houses in the adjacent MoshavMevo Modi’im, (also known as the Carlebach Moshav).

“We started rehabilitation work there already last year,” Nurit Hibsher said. “However, the bulk of the planting will start now, after Tu Bishvat. Much of the forest that was destroyed was comprised of pine trees. After careful deliberation, we decided to plant smaller broadleaf trees instead of the conifers. The broadleaf species will still provide good green cover and at the same time pose less wildfire danger to Mevo Modi’im and other communities in the area.”
Cyclamen plants (Rakefet) growing in the nursery. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)

Yablovich, of the Seed and Nursery Department, said that his pet project is searching for the seeds of nectar-producing trees, which are currently being distributed to Israel’s beekeepers. “I am happy that they are the first group to receive our saplings each autumn. When we produce trees that feed the bees, we are helping to combat the alarming plague of CCD or ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’,” he said.

CCD refers to the recent worldwide phenomenon of bees abandoning their hives and simply disappearing. This is thought to be caused by the sharp decrease in suitable high-quality food from nectar-producing flowers, combined with the use of pesticides.

“The CCD prevalence in Israel is low compared to most other countries and I like to believe that this is largely because of our efforts,” Yablovich said. “KKL-JNF provides over 100,000 high-quality nectar trees to the honey farmers each year. The presence of those trees ensures that the bees have a good source of nectar all year round. That effort is good for the beekeepers, good for the bees, and therefore good for us. Let us not forget that bees are vital for a healthy environment. That is what KKL-JNF is all about. And here I must quote Albert Einstein who predicted: "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live."

The beautiful nursery in Eshtaol ready for Tu Bishvat. (Photo: Bonnie Scheinman, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)