KKL-JNF Tree and Plant Nurseries

Growing plants and keeping Israel green is both a science and an art. KKL-JNF's three tree and plant nurseries, which are located in the country's southern, northern and central regions, are laboratories where different species of trees and plants are grown for Israel's forests and open spaces.


Shula nurtures trees at Eshtaol Nursery. Photo: Tania Susskind

The Bible compares trees to people, and like people, they speak, expressing their needs and general state of wellbeing through their size, color, trunk density, and more. The workers at KKL-JNF's nurseries learn to communicate with the trees, and they know that communication is good when they produce healthy trees that survive and thrive.

In the past, each forester was responsible for his own parcel of forest, and he basically did what he saw fit, based on his individual knowledge and experience. Today, there is national and regional long-term and short-term planning for KKL-JNF's forests and parks, and the nurseries supply the trees and shrubs best suited to each particular site.

Each of KKL-JNF's 3 nurseries, which are technically part of KKL-JNF's Afforestation Division, cater to the specific needs and climatic conditions of the region in which it is located - north, south and central Israel.

Why "Nursery"?


Seeds germinate and become sprouts. Photo: Tania Susskind

The word nursery, which people often associate with a place where young children are raised, is very apt. Seeds arrive at the nursery from KKL-JNF's seed center in Beit Nehemiah and are placed in a closed room where they germinate, a process that takes about three to four weeks. Each tender sprout is then planted in a black plastic sleeve and taken outside to grow in an open but protected space. Depending on the species, it takes from 6 to 10 months until a sapling is ready to be planted in its new home.

It should be noted that KKL-JNF's nurseries provide trees not only for Israel's parks and forests, but also for urban spaces such as city parks, schools, urban landscaping, army bases and more. The nurseries are in close contact with the Ministry of Agriculture, municipalities and regional councils, and many other public entities in order to plan for the future and meet their varying needs. As Nir Midian, the director of KKL-JNF's Eshtaol Nursery, puts it, "In a certain sense, our job is to circumvent nature, which is more interested in the propagation of the species than in each individual specimen. We do so by providing all our saplings with optimal conditions in terms of water, soil, timing, and much more, in order to achieve maximum production."

The Golani Nursery in Northern Israel


Nursery director Hiruy Amare holds up a sapling at the Golani Nursery. Photo: Tania Susskind

KKL-JNF's Golani Nursery is located right off Highway 65, in close proximity to the Golani Junction. It covers an area of 16 acres, of which 6 acres are exclusively used for growing saplings.  The Golani nursery currently produces over 450,000 plants annually. The nursery is directed by Hiruy Amare, who has been there for almost 15 years. As is also the case in central Israel, most of the trees grown here are marked for burnt or old forests that need to be replanted and rehabilitated, since there are very few open spaces left in these regions.

One of the unique features of the Golani Nursery is the fact that it grows water plants, such as papyrus, for KKL-JNF's Hula Lake Park. In addition, it produces three different types of cedars, two of which are authentic Cedars of Lebanon and cedars specially brought to Israel from the distant Himalaya. These trees are snow-resistant, and their branches don’t break as easily as do those of other trees, which were severely damaged by last winter's heavy snowstorm. Along with KKL-JNF's other nurseries, Golani often provides a home for older trees that had to be moved from a building site or a new highway until they find a new home. For example, an olive tree a few hundred years old was sent from the nursery to be replanted at the Israel Army headquarters in Tel Aviv, where the IDF Chief of Staff will be able to see if from his window.

Future plans for the Golani Nursery include an advanced water recycling system, which would treat the water used for irrigation and upgrade it so that it could be reused. In addition, members of the New Guard organization (HaShomer HaChadash), which protects farms and communities in the north from thievery and damage, volunteer at the nursery and work together with the KKL-JNF staff at times when there is a need for a helping hand.

The Eshtaol Nursery in the Judean Foothills


Eshtaol Nursery Director Nir Midian displays the soil substrate that the seeds are grown in. Photo: Tania Susskind

KKL-JNF's Eshtaol Nursery provides trees and shrubs for Israel's central region, to as far as Yokne'am in the north. There are not many sites left for planting new forests in this area, so over 350,000 saplings are grown annually for forest renewal, replacement of burnt trees and public and urban spaces. As Nursery Director Nir Midian explained, "Part of KKL-JNF's mission is education and promotion of a green agenda. We're not a commercial enterprise, which is one of the reasons it's important to have separate nurseries in each part of the country. Busses come here all the time with schoolchildren, soldiers, employees of various companies and organizations, or people just driving by. They learn about KKL-JNF's work, how Israel was greened and how we keep our country green. For example, next week we'll be hosting a group of flower growers from the Ministry of Agriculture who are interested in learning about how we provide optimal growing conditions for our plants." The Eshtaol Nursery recently supplied saplings for the Ariel Sharon Park on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, helping to create a green lung for Israel's largest urban center.

The Eshtaol nursery also provides trees for special occasions, including tree plantings by visiting heads of states at KKL-JNF's Grove of the Nations, for ambassadors and other VIPS, for conferences and fairs and more. In May 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel, and KKL-JNF's Yehiel Cohen chose an olive tree sapling from the Eshtaol nursery to be planted in the gardens of the President's Residence in Jerusalem. "I was asked to choose one of our finest specimens," Mr. Cohen said at the time. "We transported the olive tree to the President's Residence, where the Pope completed its planting and declared it the Tree of Peace." 

Shula, who lives in nearby Beit Shemesh, has been working at the nursery since 1982. "I work about 8 1/2 hours a day, and I am almost always outdoors. I've been able to work at the same job for so many years because there's always something different to do, dependent on the season of the year. I love nature, so for me, working at the nursery is a real labor of love."

In the future, there are plans to construct a new visitor's educational center where people will be able to learn about the nursery's work firsthand.

The Gilat Nursery in the South


Computerised irrigation at the Gilat nursery. Photo: Pablo Chercasky.

Gilat Nursery in the Western Negev is KKL-JNF's largest tree and shrub nursery. It specializes in drought-resistant plants that can grow in the harsh conditions of Israel's Negev desert, playing its part in KKL-JNF's internationally acclaimed reputation for successful desert afforestation. This is a region in which the maximum average precipitation is 250-350 mms per year, dropping to as little as 20 annual mms in Eilat in the south. Add the maximum exposure to solar radiation, and one begins to understand the extent of the challenges facing KKL-JNF in its goal of preventing the arid and semi-arid areas of Israel's south from becoming total desert.

Gilat Nursery is actually a fifty-acre base for growing various plants and a testing-ground to discover what flora can thrive in such difficult conditions. Experiments are made with plants and trees from all over the world, from the Americas to Africa, to see what might succeed. In the words of Nursery Director Pablo Chercasky: "We want to show people that you can make a wonderful garden with plants that don't demand huge amounts of water." Gilat Nursery also boasts a large "mother plantation", where mature trees of all shapes and sizes provide an invaluable source of seeds, cuttings and information for meeting the changing needs of Israel's forests and open spaces.


Pablo Chercasky (left) with visiting UN FAO Forestry Department officials in January 2014.  Photo: Tania Susskind

Due to its expertise in desert afforestation and growing drought-resistant trees and shrubs, Gilat nursery is a popular stop for visitors and delegations from abroad that come to Israel to learn about local achievements in this field. Along with Nursery Director Pablo Chercasky, they are often met by KKL-JNF Chief Forester David Brand and KKL-JNF Southern Region Deputy Director Itzik Moshe, internationally acclaimed experts in combating desertification.

Guests in the past have included Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); Mr. Eduardo Rojas-Briales of Spain, the Assistant Director-General and Head of the United Nation's FAO Forestry Department;
Professor Christine Farcy of Belgium, European Commission Vice President for Forestry at FAO and chairperson of the Silva Mediterranea evaluation panel; employees of the American, Kenyan and Japanese embassy and their families, and many more.  

Preparations for the Sabbatical Year 5775


Shade from sun and raised seedbeds at Golani to prevent contact with Israel's soil during the shmita year. Photo: Tania Susskind

Israel's sabbatical year starts on the Jewish New Year, which begins on the 1st of the Hebrew month of Tishrei 5775, September 25, 2014. The sabbatical year, known in Hebrew as the shmita year, is observed every seventh year in Israel, based on the biblical commandment to work the land for 6 years and to let it rest every seventh year, dedicating it as a year-long Sabbath for the land. This year, as in former years, KKL-JNF is preparing for the special work that will be done in its forests and nurseries. KKL-JNF keeps the commandment of the sabbatical year in all the lands it administers, in accordance with the instructions of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. In anticipation of the sabbatical year, fewer trees were prepared during 5774, and KKL-JNF nurseries have been extremely busy during the last few weeks distributing as many trees and shrubs as possible until the September 15 cutoff date.

During the sabbatical year itself, nursery work will continue as usual, on the condition that religious requirements are upheld. 


Raised seedbeds at eshtaol. Photo: Tania Susskind

Sowing is done in contained spaces, and, after sprouting, the sprouts are transported in special wagons, which are sealed on the bottom and on top (but open on the sides), and their substrate is at least ten handbreadths (90cm) off the ground. The sprouts are moved to a greenhouse where the substrate is disconnected and has no contact with the ground, and, in this format, it is also permitted to supply fertilizer and water in amounts that suffice for the survival of the sprouts. In this way, the survival of the plants is ensured, but the land of Israel is not worked. In fact, most of the methods used by the nurseries during the six years of the seven-year cycle are suitable for the sabbatical year. When there is a special demand by the Rabbinate, KKL-JNF complies by finding innovative solutions.

KKL-JNF plans to put special emphasis on education during 5775, and the nurseries will participate in this project. Educational activities will relate to ecological and agricultural aspects of the sabbatical year and its importance for people and for nature. Experiential activities will bring youth closer to the values of respect for the environment and for the earth, and they will focus on environmental issues that relate to the sabbatical year, such as the preservation of natural resources with consideration for people and their needs. The numerous events planned for the sabbatical year will include special events in all three KKL-JNF nurseries.