Rebecca Norman

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since Aug 28, 2012
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Rebecca has lived in Ladakh in the Himalayas since 1992. She's a bit of a crabby, grumpy character but is trying to Be Nice on Permies.
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Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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Recent posts by Rebecca Norman

Hi John!
The capers here in Ladakh are exactly the same species as the Mediterranean ones.

Either the conventional wisdom about its minimum winter temperature is wrong, or a cold-hardy variety has evolved and crept up to this altitude over the centuries.  I'm sure -6C winters won't be a problem, even according to the conventional wisdom, that I think says -8C. At my location in Ladakh we get -20 to -25C (-13F) minimums every night through January (for a rough idea, we have to bury pipes 3 feet underground to prevent freezing blockage, and we have a 6 to 8 week pond hockey season). The climate is dry both summer and winter and I don't see the capers growing where water collects on the surface except for rare precipitation events once or twice a year. Maybe where the climate is damper they are less cold tolerant, I don't know. A bit higher in Ladakh and the capers become much rarer, so I guess this variety only tolerates this winter minimum temperature.

Maybe in places with a warmer winter, the caper bushes don't die all the way to the ground. Here in Ladakh, the above ground parts dry up completely in winter and shoot up again in spring, exactly the same life cycle as asparagus (and perhaps that's why we get the thick vigorous yummy caper shoots in springtime, just like asparagus).

I suspect central Texas is dry enough to make them happy.

I don't know how they'll like the roasting heat that I suspect Texas gets, but they are commercially collected in some countries that I believe have very hot summers, like Greece, Spain, Yemen, Syria, and other places in and near the Arabian peninsula. I think it's worth a try for you in Texas!

Good luck!
4 days ago
We have had greywater going to trees for more than 25 years at our school, and have not tried to control the 'products' used by the 25 - 80 teenagers living here at any given time. The willows and poplars are visibly thriving and bigger on the greywater than elsewhere in our campus. We had plenty of running water in the bathing block so it wasn't concentrated: I think that makes a difference.

Art Ludwig's book on greywater systems (really great book) points out that the soil ecosystem is liveliest in the top couple of inches of the soil because it is aerobic. So systems that run on the surface tend to be trouble free and effective, much more so than buried perforated pipes. Our school just has little canals to the willows and poplars.
1 week ago
I am trying to get rid of the female plants. There's been too much self-seeding, and I'm afraid the new plants are just crowding the slightly older plants. I already collected enough seeds, and they last for years if I ever want to start more plants or give seeds to people.

In late summer I cut down the fronds that had berries and marked them with plastic stakes. Then in November I got some friends to help me dig them out. Of the four beds I had, one was mostly male so I left that bed in place and just replaced the one female plant there. The other three beds were in the wrong location so we dug out all the plants (wow, such big vigorous crowns of roots in just 3 or 4 years!!) and moved the males to a new bed, better placed and better amended. It was possible to tease apart some of the crowns and make two plants out of one. I'm sure we missed some of the females and they'll come up in the new bed.

I wouldn't mind having just one female plant among a couple dozen males. I'd be able to pull off all the berries and save seeds or destroy them. But my Jersey Knight seeds from Johnny's seem to have proved to be much more than 50% female and it's impossible to keep up with them. They just become a weed problem.
1 week ago
About overwintering waterlilies, I think I read that you can pull them up and store them in a cool place like a root cellar.
1 week ago
I would totally try it!
Personally I tend to think if the leaves and the seeds are both edible then the fluffy flower/seed structures are probably not toxic at all. But they do have an unpleasant texture. Hopefully your smoothie blender will puree them smooth enough. I'll certainly try the red leaves in smoothies later this year.

I have a new interesting note about cooking red amaranth. Last summer there was so much volunteer amaranth in my garden that I decided to make palak paneer, and the recipe I use entails boiling the green leafy vegetable, draining it, and pureeing it with sauteed onions, spices, etc. It turned out that boiling and draining the red amaranth completely removed the red coloring, and the palak paneer turned out green, not red or pink! This is the red amaranth I pictured above in 2014, and it's still going strong volunteering around my garden.
2 weeks ago
What is your goal?

Greywater is fine for watering trees and perennials. Surface systems are very resilient and less smelly than expected, and the soaps and products don't sem to be a problem. I've lived with such systems for almost 30 years here in the high desert. The trees and perennials need irrigation anyway.
2 weeks ago
I've lived in passive solar earth bermed houses in the high desert.

What climate are you in? And you implied you're in the northern hemisphere, right?

1) In a humid climate, in summer the thermal mass can attract condensation. It wasn't a problem in our dry climate but I've seen it in another place I've visited many times: humidity to a problematic level.

2) The earth down deep holds at about the annual average temperature. Where we are, that is something like 10C, which is lower than comfortable room temperature. So there's a conundrum with the earth berming. It's much warmer than the outdoors air temperature in winter, which is good, but it's lower than the desired room temperature. So the best is to have the rooms you want warm on the south side, and use the earth bermed northern side of the structure as a thermal buffer zone, things like corridors, storerooms (great for a pantry I can attest!), stairs, dry composting toilet room.

3) Solar gain really truly happens best on the south-facing side. East, west and north facing sides get excess unwanted sun in summer and insufficient sun in winter. Overheating in summer, especially night overheating due to west-facing windows, is seriously uncomfortable. Your situation, with the solar exposure windows above the living spaces won't work well for passive heating, but could work for an active system using a medium like air or water to move the heat to the living space. It's not dictated by "solar police" but by geometry and how the earth turns.

4) If you're in a climate with plenty of wood and you like heating with wood, then the strawbale and rammed earth construction could hold enough heat to reduce your heating season and might be part of a solution.

Best of luck! Curious to hear what climate and latitude you're in.
4 weeks ago
I used to have an American friend who was allergic to sheep wool and mutton. She came to India and my corner of it, Ladakh, several times. Both wool and mutton are part of daily life here. Before she came I'd roll up the wool carpet that was the usual seating. If mutton affected her too, then it can't just have been dander. I think she said lanolin and lanolin based lotions were also bad for her
1 month ago
Regular soap works as well as detergent to clean clothes. It removes sweat smells better than laundry detergent, I find. In fact I once spot-cleaned the underarms of a cotton indigo-patterned top for smell, but once it dried, I found that the soap had brightened the white spaces between the blue pattern so much that the upper half of the shirt looked different from the bottom half and I had to rewash it, covering the entire thing with soap to even it out.

I'm talking about the bars of soap that I keep on the side of the sink or shower. I'm not sure if brand makes a difference. And I'm talking about hand-washing. I don't know if this is better than detergent or commercial 'gentle laundry' products, but anyway it's another piece of info for you.
1 month ago
This is the reason I've always resisted the urge to bring in comfrey.

Even the non-seeding varieties will eventually spread out.

Someday I will leave this land or die. You, too, might not be taking care of your land and your Bocking comfrey forever. I don't till, but the next person might. I hope they don't curse my name for the things I planted or built...
1 month ago