Pura Nature Reserve 390.
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
For six years, the drooping eucalyptus trees illustrated the frustration of the
Negev’s farmers: Like most trees, they were suffering from a severe drought and
did not have enough water to blossom. Unable to make ends meet, farmers turned
to the government for support to recoup their losses from the multi-year
But on Sunday, Yochai Hershberg, the second-generation owner of
Philip’s Farm, was giddily scrubbing the mud off his roadside stand on Highway
40. “You should have seen the flood here this past weekend!” he said,
eagerly showing visitors a video on his cellphone of the parking lot gushing
Most business owners would be upset about a flood, but for
Hershberg, the water was a gift from the heavens.
In the past five days,
the Negev has received an impressive 100 millimeters of rain. The average
rainfall in the northern Negev near Kiryat Gat is 330 mm., but in the past six
years there has only been 200 to 240 mm. of water, Hershberg explained. This
year, they have already reached 425 mm.
This was the second time his
fields have flooded in the past two weeks – having not overflowed for the past
six years. But even more importantly, Hershberg said, the rain was
optimally distributed over the winter: slowly, over many days, rather than a
“It wasn’t a hard rain, it was more gentle, so the land
was able to completely absorb it,” he said.
The plentiful rainfall also
resulted in a banner year for the red anemones, which bathe the Negev hillsides
in a red cloak each spring. Last year, the high season of flowers, which is
celebrated each year with the Darom Adom (Scarlet South) Festival, lasted a
paltry two weeks. This year, six weeks after they first bloomed on January 20,
the flowers were just beginning to show signs of drooping.
added that while the rain helped the wildflowers bloom more vividly than usual,
next year promises to be exceptional. The rain will enable this year’s
flowers to blossom to their full capacity and spread the maximum amount of
The festival, which is held every weekend in February and includes
family hikes, farm activities, bike rides and guided tours, ended last weekend.
The anemones are fading as wild mustard plants bloom yellow across the intensely
green hills. Bring a sandwich and add some of the mustard leaves, which
have a spicy aftertaste that tastes like mild horseradish. Sage, fennel
and mint are also in bloom, so a finjan (kettle) for tea is also
The rainfall will also help next year’s crop of honey and
olives, two of Hershberg’s main products at roadside stand. The tangy organic
eucalyptus honey, made from the fuzzy blossoms of eucalyptus trees, marries the
sweetness of raw honey with a slightly spicy kick.
But Hershberg, whose
father, Philip, started the farm in the 1950s with two partners, is the first to
admit that plentiful rains alone will not return the farm to a profitable
status. “Farmers have a really hard time making a living today,” he said.
“So we’re trying now to make a living off of tourism.”
His farm is part
of an innovative program by the Agriculture Ministry to rehabilitate abused
donkeys, using them to carry tourists on treks through the northern Negev.
Hershberg pointed out another benefit of the recent rainfall: It grows more food
for the donkeys.
Damp land and heat are the ideal conditions for farmers,
Hersberg said on Sunday, as he polished honey jars speckled with rain. Since the
Negev does not usually experience a shortage of hot days, this bodes well for
farmers – who after years of drought, finally have a break in the clouds.