This weekend I went to visit the Lev family, who lives near the Golan Heights. The company was great, as usual, and the trip was fun, despite the overcast weather. I was hoping to take some pictures of the borders with Jordan and Syria and post them here, but the weather wasn’t good enough.
Yochi brought cherry tomatoes from a special project in the Arava, in collaboration with BGU (Ben-Gurion University). Those tomatoes grow in Brackish water (salt water, but not as salty as sea water). I suppose that common sense is that when you water something with salt water it should die; however, the folks at BGU found a way to prevent that, and also to yield the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, they aren’t available commercially yet. When they do, I’ll let you know :)
Yochi also took me to his new project – a pomegranates orchard. He is working on it in collaboration with Bet-Zimra vinyard, makers of the hip pomegranates wine. Anyways, here’s a picture of his “playground”, where the tree seedlings will be planted next week (click to see larger picture).
The white lines are sheets of insulating fabric. Below them is essentially a channel with a mixture of soil, vermiculate and other materials that I understand nothing about, and don’t remember their names. At the moment, the tree seedlings are at a nursery, but next week they’ll be moved here and planted directly into the channel. The channel itself is partially isolated from the ground below it, so the trees grow in a partially hydroponic environment.
(When the trees grow bigger, their roots penetrate to the ground below. However, as Yochi explained to me, the trees grow two kinds of roots: roots for physical stability, that go down deeper, and roots for nutrition, that stay closers to the ground, inside the channel)
I have seen this system in action with his orchard of mango trees, which is already mature. There are 4 pipes running through each channel, carrying water, minerals, nutrients and whatever else those trees desire. All the pipes are connected to a central hub at the far end of the orchard. The hub is completely computerized, thus all the work of nurturing those trees is done with much less labour than I previously thought possible.
The system also has lots of sensors, both at a global level, and also per individual tree. The sensors give back information about water level, ph level, temperature, density, and pretty much anything else that Yochi needs to know about each tree, to assess the overall health and growth of the orchard.
At the hub, there is also a satellite-based transmitter, so the information flows straight from the trees to his laptop, where everything can be analyzed and checked for problems. He even monitored his mango orchard during his last visit to Toronto.
Finally, that green stuff that you see in the picture, between the white lines – that is not weed. It is barley. To avoid the need for herbicides, they grow barley between the lines of trees. The barley is dominant enough over the wild weeds to achieve a local mono-culture in those lines, thus protecting the trees from weeds, and eliminating the need to herbicides. To top it all of, they sell the barley commercially as well.
Pretty impressive, eh?