Rebecca Norman

gardener & author
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since Aug 28, 2012
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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

I'm sorry, I didn't read all the details, but I just want to pitch in my two cents. I have extensive experience of smart guys around me insisting they've found a way to make a genuinely airtight homemade double glazed window. Yup, nope. After a year, or at most two, the moisture inside will have caught dust, so that even if the moisture dries out, the glass is hazy. Then the little bugs get in. Then sometimes the bigger wasps, or my phobia, a huntsman spider, get in. Yuck. Nope.

Even commercially premade evacuated double glazing seems to usually go hazy after some time.

My purpose for windows is threefold.
1) Windows need to be clear so I can enjoy the view and see what's happening outside. If I can't clean the window, it is an irritant every day, forever.
2) Windows need to let in light. I don't like using artificial lights in the daytime. Irks me. Every day.
3) At least one window in each room needs to be openable. Not every day, but several times a year, and when it's important, it's often urgent.

Because of number 1, I've gone off double glazing and moved toward operating my woolen curtains every morning and evening instead. In my two-year old rammed earth house, we put double glazing only on the east and west windows. The south, where my best view and solar gain is, I kept single. The downstairs of the house, I attach a greenhouse for the winter, so that increases solar gain hugely, and reduces heat loss at night slightly. Upstairs where it's single glazed large windows, I operate woolen curtains every morning and evening. My upstairs bedroom doesn't really stay quite warm enough, so I tack up a clear plastic layer for the coldest month or two of winter over part of the window, leaving one large pane single for the view and visibility. But that's only January and February.

About humidity,  don't think rice will do much. It only holds as much moisture as it's going to hold, and then it has to dry out before it can take moisture again. Earthen walls are pretty great at moderating moisture, but condensation due to temperature differentials is pretty insistent.
5 days ago
I think I have fusarium wilt fungus in the soil in my seasonal greenhouse, but Estiva and Sungold are both hybrids that have some resistance to it, so they keep producing fruit as the leaves from the bottom upwards turn yellow and then dried up brown. The hybrid red cherry tomatoes I grew last year didn't start producing until late, and then were kinda sour, but their self-seeded offspring are actually better this year, started producing earlier, and better flavor.

About flavor, I seem to find that the very first tomatoes from any given plant don't taste as good as they do a couple of weeks later. Likewise, sometimes the first tomatoes get blossom end rot, but the later tomatoes from the same plants are fine, so it's maybe just temperature, not soil conditions.

Cherry tomatoes tend to be very intense with the flavor. I've canned a batch or two of puree this year, of about one third intense cherry tomatoes, one third my normal size tomatoes, and one third locally bought tasteless plum tomatoes. It was great. Also, I've dried a lot of cherry and other tomatoes, and I find that even somewhat tasteless tomatoes, if I let them ripen as much as possible and then dry them in the sun, they do improve their flavor. Also roasting in the oven does a very good thing to their flavor.

I've earmarked a supposedly fusarium resistant variety of San Marzano to order when I next (if I ever!) visit the US.
I have a question: you use a whole cup of herbs for a single meal for two people? Wow, that's a lot more than I would use.

I've seen a suggestion to grate ginger and freeze it in a log shape, about an inch in diameter. That is supposedly thin enough to allow you to break off as much as you need. Could that work for you? But if you need to use a whole cup in each meal, then no, I don't think it would, but now I'm thinking it might work for me for some things.

Or another idea, is after you freeze the pucks separately, could you dip botheth wide sides in oil before stacking them for storage? Would that make them possible to separate later? Hmm... nah, probably not.
2 weeks ago
Yep, creepy is the word!

Here in the high desert in the Himalayas, I've seen it here and there every year one small plant or another, but it never seems to become a big problem. Some years I really tried to pull out every bit of it, and other years I ignored it, and it didn't seem to make any difference in how much appeared the following year.

In Delhi I've seen what must be a different species of Cuscuta. Huge strands as thick as ropes, covering a whole tree. Yuck!

2 weeks ago

denise ra wrote:Rebecca Norman, if you can find something that is reflective like a silver emergency blanket and put that under the heating pad also the maybe won't lose so much heat. Of course it might sound a little crinkly at first.

Good idea! I actually have one of those silver emergency blankets, that somebody gave me and I've never used. Gotta try that!
2 weeks ago
I TOTALLY use mint for mulch! I planted some at my greywater outlet, and of course it's booming. I cut it down once this year, in June, and used it fresh to mulch garden plants that were coming up. None of it rooted or anything. I live in the desert so maybe in a moister climate it could be a problem, but really it wilted very fast.
2 weeks ago
Hey, I found some informative pages about growing currants! The upshot seems to be that they can self-pollinate but will set more fruit with more than one cultivar/variety of the species.

Black currants (Ribes ussuriense or Ribes nigrum)

(Oh! so "black currants" can be two different species!)

Black currants are self-sterile partly, so, it’s better to plant its two varieties close to each other.
Red currants are usually self-pollinating but in some conditions benefit from cross-pollinating with another red variety or a white variety.

In black currant (R. nigrum) almost all cultivars require insect pollination. The flowers are somewhat self-compatible, but the style and anthers are physically separated in individual flowers. However, all cultivars require insect cross-pollination to set a satisfactory crop. Self-pollinated plants have lower fertility.
Here's how to get more varieties for pollination (and maybe my friend has already done this):

Currant seeds germinate if stratified for three to four months at temperatures just above freezing. Seedlings are prolific and do not vary much from parent. Bushes grown from seed bear when two or three years old.

Do black currants really need two varieties for pollination? I'll be getting some black currant plants soon and I didn't know I had to make sure to get two or more varieties.

Edited to add: I found another thread on Permies about pollination of currants, but it did not clear up my question.  Most of the replies were from people who have several varieties of currants so they have good pollination anyway, regardless of whether it's self-fertile. And some of the comments use the word "species" for "variety" so those comments also didn't clarify things for me, either.

I live a good 500 or 1000m from the nearest other garden, and I doubt anybody in my village has any currants at all, so I have to take care of my own pollination. Currants are rare in my region -- I know one person with black currants, and one person with red currants. Those are two different species and unlikely to do much cross pollination for each other. Red currant is said to be fairly self-fertile, so I guess that'll be fine. But I'm more excited about the black currant, because the jam is amazing. And there are conflicting reports about whether it is self-fertile. Maybe the American "clove" variety is, but European varieties aren't? Oh well, I guess I'll ask my friend to give me propagules from several different specimens of his. He's certainly getting production and selling jam, so whatever he has does seem to work. Though I think I remember that he brought the originals as a single plant about 20 years ago (smuggled from Sweden in his luggage, to be precise, haha!)
I'm one of those people, if I get under cold covers, my feet just clam up, and don't warm up, so I won't fall asleep till about 2 or 3. When I lived at our school with only solar electricity for 20+ years, I used a hot water bottle or two. Now that I'm in a house that has mains power, I've used an electric mattress pad for two winters.

My tips for hot water bottles: Yes, fill it with boiling water! In fact in the coldest part of winter, I preheat it like a teacup: fill it with boiling water, wait a few seconds, then pour the water back into the pot and reboil it! I wear socks to bed in winter anyway, so it doesn't burn my feet. I lay the rubber bag-like part flat on the counter and bend the neck upright to fill it, to reduce "burping" up of boiling water, air pockets, and spillage. Then push it gently to get the air out before closing. Don't overfill: two floppy hot water bags are more comfortable than one overfilled one. One for the knees, one for the feet, in January. Mmmmm....

My tips for electric mattress warmers (called electric blankets in India): The instructions on the ones sold here say put it under your bottom sheet, and I like that. If you're concerned about synthetic materials next to your body, that helps. If you're concerned about an electromagnetic field around your body, then use it to preheat the bed and then turn it off when you get in it. If you have good enough covers (and good enough circulation to your feet) that should be enough to keep you warm all night. This winter, I'm planning to put a foam camping mattress under my mattress, because in previous winters I felt like heat leaked away downwards overnight. (BTW it's not "heat rises" but only "hot air rises" -- Heat can conduct away equally up or down).

The electric mattress pad uses only about 150W (adjustable for high, medium, low heat, but I use mine on high, 140W for the coldest part of winter). If you use it to preheat the bed before getting in, it's a very small amount of electricity each night. Less than 1/10 of what any kind of stand alone electric heater would use, such as a blower or a parabolic thingy, especially if those have to be left on for longer than the mattress pad.
2 weeks ago
I have plastic tupperware type boxes, and I store all my seeds alphabetically in them. Either the original packets, or I fold paper envelopes for seeds I collect, and label them mentioning the year of collection. I keep them in a cool dark place in the house.

Importantly, before storing, I let the collected seeds sit out in a dish for a week or two to make sure they are really fully dry. (Drives my housemates nuts, I think)

I have often had seeds that should be older than the typical lifespan still germinate, so I'd say it's working fine for me.