Our Israeli Container Garden

The second floor of our apartment has a large, sunny porch. At one point we had a thriving herb garden, which now contains only a geranium, some sad-looking rosemary, and a miniature citrus tree. I am gratified that the tree survived long enough for us to enjoy the single kumquat, since we couldn’t eat the fruit until the fourth year of neta revai (see the fourth paragraph here for more explanation). That tree came close to dying more than once.

After picking the kumquat we had to let it be hefker, or ownerless, because it had kedushat shvi’it, the holiness of the sabbatical year. (All fruit from trees that bloomed after last Tu beShevat have this status). We had to leave it in a place where others could take it if they liked. We put it out in our living room with a sign, and, when we remembered, pointed it out to visitors. No one took it, but the kumquat got slightly smushed. We should have another chance soon.

A, age 12, has been nudging me to start planting again. Since he had a day off from school yesterday, we went into town and bought seven bags of seeds: Shallots, thyme, “baby mix” (even though the storekeeper said he didn’t have any lettuce), garden peas, basil, sage, and broccoli. Mimi donated a package of chamomile.

At home we collected the old pots and soil from the dead plants, saving the dried branches and leaves for compost. In a large bowl, A mixed the soil with dried compost from two years ago (another project we need to revive). He placed broken china into the bottom of the pots so that the roots wouldn’t sit in water, and refilled the pots. He swept up the dirt and called me to help decide which seeds to plant in each pot. The two smaller children helped with the planting. Then A labelled the pots.

We placed the containers in a partially shaded spot to minimize evaporation, since the forecast is for another hot and dry week. I wonder if we should bring them inside until they sprout.

I am resolved to use only recycled water for this garden. The challenge is to collect the water and get it up to the second floor. I placed a dishpan in the kitchen sink to collect used water, and poured it through a strainer into a bucket. Straining the water might not be necessary as small amounts of vegetable matter can only help the plants.

My husband and I think that we can also use recycled water for the first cycle of the washing machine.

I would like to hear readers’ suggestions about container gardening and conserving water. Fern’s blog, Life on the Balcony, is an excellent resource for container gardeners.


  1. Don’t forget the water after Shabbat that is left in your hot water urn. It is especially good, because the chlorine has been boiled out.
    They say you can put a bucket next to you in the shower when you are wetting yourself down.
    I’d like to do container gardening…the problem is remembering to water it, and finding the time to set it up!

  2. mother in israel says

    Thanks, Safranit. I hope my 12yo will help remember to water it, even though he gets home after dark.

  3. I look forward to hearing more of your gardening adventures! I’ll keep praying for rain for you.

  4. mother in israel says

    The water in the urn is potable, so I’d prefer it for cooking. Unlike the leftover water in the kids’ bottles! I’m having them bring the bottles to the table to finish up the water, otherwise it goes in the plants. Chlorine evaporates from any standing water, no?
    Thanks, Leora, and I’ll get to the washing machine trick, it just has to be moved and a big enough container found.

  5. I live in the US but still try hard to conserve water. I empty the dishpan into the garden after washing dishes, and as well, you can leave a bucket under the washing machine hose and use that water for your plants–there’s a lot–more than one bucketful for the wash and rinse cycles.

  6. MiL — After your plants sprout and are established, I would put some mulch down to cover the soil, this will help keep the water in the soil from evaporating before your plants can use it, which in turn will make it so that you can water them less frequently. Also, water your plants at night for the same reason.

  7. Oops. I promise that I know that Israel starts with an “I” not an “L.” đŸ˜‰

  8. mother in israel says

    Thanks Fern and no need to apologize–everyone calls me their mother-in-law. Since IL is an abbreviation for Israel it makes sense.

  9. Thank you for the very interesting and briliant idea!
    I linked to you: http://israelchronicles.blogspot.com/2008/12/ingenuity-and-necessity.html

  10. mother in israel says

    Denise—thank you for the ideas. I plan to comment on your bar mitzvah post. I also have a twelve-year-old son.

  11. You may need to put your plants in bigger containers to conserve water. That citrus needs more room for the roots. If you water the Rosemary it may come back to life. Mine did.
    I am enjoying your blog. So many interesting topics you write about. I am going to add you to my reader.

  12. Dear Mother in Israel,

    I live in Israel too, since 1994, and for the last two years I have had the pleasure to make a container garden on my 2nd floor balcony – also decorating it with pet birds in cages and a small table fountain (requiring only a few decilitres of water).
    Like you, I also use recycled water for the plants.

    In order to recycle water, I have a plastic bowl in each sink in the house, where we do the dishes and wash our hands. All water is poured in a bucket nearby for later use.

    To save water, I do some of the laundry by hand, and the water is saved in the same manner.

    The water from aquariums or fish tanks is good to use for watering plants – it works like a fertilizer – so when I clean the tanks, I save that water also.

    Water left after boiling potatoes or vegetables can also be saved and used as fertelizer for the plants.

    Needless to say, with today’s water prices, every small amount of water left anywhere, even drinking water from the children’s bottles, is saved and used in the container garden.

    So far I have had luck with herbs and flowers, while tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucubers have attracted white flyers and other pests, so that I have had to throw out those latter plants before getting any harvest.

    Do you, by the way, know any remedy for white flyers etc? I would so much like to grow tomatoes and cucumbers! – There is nothing like the feeling when you go out on your balcony and pick fresh home-grown herbs or vegetables…

    I think Israel is such a lovely country to have a small garden in. In my home country, the growing season is very short due to cold weather, but here it seems possible to grow crops and get a harvest all year round.

  13. I just remembered an other way we save water in my home. A big plastic container is placed under the shower, and we get two sorts of left over water that we save: the clean cold water that comes before the hot water arrives, and the soapy water that we have used for showeing. Probably we save the most water in this way.

    Also Fern’s advice is very useful for conserving water: water your plants in the evening and cover the dirt in the pots with mulch.

    I wish you good luck with your container garden, and I am looking forward to continue reading your blog (which I stumbled upon while searching “gardening in Israel”).

    Best wishes,