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Rebecca Norman

gardener & author
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since Aug 28, 2012
Rebecca likes ...
trees food preservation solar greening the desert
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.
Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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Recent posts by Rebecca Norman

Douglas Campbell wrote:
We could probbably do a bit better now, but those numbers imply a large population drop if we go without ferilizer.

If all the nutrients from our excreta could be conserved and returned to the soil that is used to produce our food, it would be enough to produce the food to feed those same humans. This is simply the conservation of matter. Matter in, matter out, matter back in. It is a cycle like the water cycle or the oxygen cycle. Some nitrogen is lost to the air, but some nitrogen is fixed by plants and soil organisms. The rest of the nutrients are largely earth-bound, from what I understand, so they would largely remain in this cycle. Unfortunately your 8 billion humans currently turn almost all of their excreta into waste, breaking the cycle and necessitating artificial fertilisers.

But the original question of this post is intriguing. Is using dilute urine or compost leachate as a fertiliser much the same as using soluble artificial fertilisers? Is the divide really between soluble fertilisers and those that are combined with solid organic matter? Or between organic and artifically produced? Or something else?

My feeling, but I think it's just a hunch, is that soil containing plenty of healthy organic matter and soil organisms can handle, store and help plants utilise inputs of soluble fertiliser. But I don't know how true this really is.
4 days ago
I wonder about removing large amounts of biomass from your land. If you want your land to stay healthy and rich, and if selling the biochar sounds like it might not be financially profitable, maybe it would be better to keep the biomass onsite. And reduce fire hazard by burying the biomass, either as wood, like hugelkulture, or as char. (Since I am trying to start a garden in barren desert, I feel very greedy and miserly about any biomass I can get to my land, and I don't want any of it to escape, except weedy seedheads, and gifts of vegetables to friends.)
4 days ago
That is so interesting, that the Amish have lower rates of asthma and adult cancer but not lower rates of childhood cancer. That is a very impressive fact, there.
Wow, these are some great ideas here! The only one I've done before is making dill pickles out of watermelon rind. They were vinegar pickles, and canned, and I found the watermelon rind, which was too hard to eat fresh, became just right; whereas when I made cucumber dill pickles they tended to soften more than I liked. It was like the watermelon rind, when boiled in vinegar brine, became crispy cukes.

I peeled the dark green skin off with a vegetable peeler, and cut off (and eat) the pink bits because they would go soft. A watermelon with a disappointingly thick rind is ideal. For brine, I used commercial vinegar, mixed 50-50 with water. Add salt, pinch of sugar, peppercorns, garlic cloves, and plenty of dill in the bottom of each jar. Put some brine in each jar and swish it around to dissolve the salt and sugar. Pack the jars with cut watermelon rind pieces, fill with brine, and can in boiling water bath. It stayed crispy like a fresh cuke.
1 week ago
My builder used iron oxide and black tea to make a reddish earthen floor; it looked beautiful, like shiny terra cotta tiles the day I moved in. But it turns out it crumbled too much so now it's a bit more like a beach. And it turns all my socks red.
1 week ago
Has your soil and plants recovered? Did you conclude it was the alkalinity from concrete? Curious minds want to know!

G Freden wrote:I found my old thread:

That thread was in 2014. Has your soil and plants recovered? Did you conclude it was the alkalinity from concrete? Curious minds want to know!
1 week ago
No pine trees for hundreds of miles and over Himalayan passes, so pine mulch is not likely to happen.

I'm going to add as much organic matter as I can anyway, and have been doing so for these first two summers, but this soil just eats it up and leaves no trace. I think it's really too far alkaline for organic matter to do enough good in the first couple of years. I've got a composting toilet ready to be emptied next year that'll be good (sawdust and autumn leaves were the main cover material), and I have access to good amounts of dry cow dung, and will get autumn leaves from neighbors.

I'd like to hear if anyone is familiar with soil polluted with cement, and if sulfur would actually help or just make a new kind of problem.
2 weeks ago

Abe Coley wrote:One thing you could try is to make a raised bed with a sunken middle that can hold a pool of water, then fill it up and let it drain a few times. The idea is that the water-soluble alkali ions can be rinsed down and out of the bed. If the alkalinity is coming from the soil minerals themselves rather than a buiidup of salts or whatever, then this method probably won't work.

Yeah, I've been doing this somewhat since I realised the soil is so alkaline, and I think it's helping, though I'm not sure. Now when I water, I really flood each bed at least an inch and let it soak down, and then do it again. Not every time, but every few times.
2 weeks ago
Raised beds are not a great idea for the outdoor large garden, because watering is generally done by gentle flood irrigation from a canal, so the beds have to be below ground level, and below the level of the little canal. I have seen on the internet that people refer to this as waffle gardens? Anyway it's just the normal way, here. Currently I'm using a hose so raised beds would be okay, but I'm planning to eventually landscape the rest of the land so that I can do the normal canal thing. (There's no precipitation to speak of here, so irrigation is essential. I'm in some extreme desert.)
2 weeks ago