Drying Food for Winter in Ladakh, by Kelly Klein

Ladakh - Kelly Klein

The simplicity of m life gives me so much joy and satisfaction. It is not easy, but it is simple. Learning how to make do with what I have, with what is around me is incredibly rewarding. I grow food, harvest and dry for the winters, collect seeds for planting the next year, use clay to make dishes and candle holders (unfired of course), make my on compost to try to create soil in this rocky dry landscape, I save my urine to add to compost or to mix with 8 parts water, the golden elixir. I use scrap wood for making bookshelves, wooden boxes. Old coffee offered me a beautiful stain for my kitchen cabinets. The list grows daily as I create what I can from the resources I have. What endless joy this way of life offers me.

Upper Phyang Village, Ladakh - Rohit Ranjan

Preparing for Winter

I have always wanted to garden, to grow things and see them produce but have never lived long enough in one place to do so. This is my third year now in my own little place and all that I have learned has been through observing locals and experimentation. I love it. The greatest challenge is of course water, especially in spring when we are waiting for the days to warm up enough to begin to melt the glacier that feeds our valley. And then it’s the waiting game as people further up the valley use the precious resource to water their fields. It may take a month before it reaches this area, and even then, I am competing with all the other farmers wanting to water their fields of barley and wheat.


Ladakh - Kelly Klein 
Where I built my little 30-foot long passive solar house, the soil is horrible. I was told later that is why no one else lives over here! I am constantly trying to improve the soil by creating compost with sheep dung and dry leaves. I use about an inch of sheep dung and 4 inches of dry leaves, and just keep layering them on top of each other, water well and cover in clear plastic for winter. I also add my own urine frequently to help with decomposition and to add nitrogen. It gives me lovely rich compost by spring. I tried making compost tea this year, using whatever weeds/plants and water and leaving to sit for days or a week (also adding urine). This is then added directly under the tomatoes and leafy greens. I think it helps but hard to tell. A lot of my beds seem to produce miniature version of plants. Even after three years, I cannot dig past about a foot even with a pick ax, but I keep trying.


All during the summer and into early fall, I am thinking about what I can dry for winter. I live at 12,000 feet (4000 meters) on the Tibetan Plateau, in the Himalayas of northern India. There are only two roads that come into this region, and both roads are closed from generally first of November to end of May. As a result, we get nothing coming in for those 6-7 months. Stores are not restocked, gasoline (petrol) tanks cannot be refilled, all restaurants are closed because we have no fresh fruit or vegetables until the roads open again. Whatever I dry is all the fruit or vegetables for I will have to eat for the next six months. I feel like a squirrel storing away for the winter, although I think my winter is longer! I treasure the creativity and resourcefulness it encourages.


Every day I am drying something. Yesterday I went to a friend’s and picked about six kilos of
spinach. Spent the next several hours picking off the leaves, saving any seeds that were ready, and washing and laying out for drying. I use a plastic sheet on my floor and have trained my kitten Luka to stay off it. The trick was leaving a corridor for him to pass around it instead of laying it up against the wall. I have also found it better to scrunch up the leaves of spinach, kale, chard, whatever leafy greens I have so that they are not laying flat and have better chance of drying. Then tossing/turning the leaves daily until dry. It only takes a few days for my leafy greens. Often I will cut them up first, as I seem to enjoy eating them better this way. Or, I can also crunch them up when dry and adding to my hot water.


A typical meal is filling a pot of water, adding my dry veggies, adding pasta when it comes to a boil, and then just draining off the water and eating straight out of the pot. As I have never had water in the winter, having to hand-carry it up the terraces from the river below, I am incredibly frugal around its use. I can wash dishes in about a liter and save that dirty water to put in the greenhouse garden. Last year, after learning that urine is actually sterile (apparently the field surgeons during the Civil War soaked their surgical instruments in urine), I decided not to waste precious water to rinse the food out of my pots. I use urine first, and then wash and rinse normally. Sorry, urine and cooking in same paragraph! Dried veggies can also just be soaked ahead of time in hot water to add to omelets or whatever dish I am making.

So far this year: (from top) arugula, mongol (local chard), lettuce, catnip
Second row: carrot leaves, spinach, Russian kale, mushrooms, zucchini, chard, spinach, and a mix
Third row: basil, tsamik (a native lemon flavored leaf), cilantro, spinach, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower mix, sunflower leaves, and a mix of greens (arugula, spinach, chard, kale)

I am still waiting for the mushrooms to come in. Last year I dried 15 boxes, thinking of only the winter, but since they only come into Ladakh for a week or two every year, this year I want to dry 30 boxes so that I can have them all year. I just love them and they dry so quickly. All these things when dry shrivel up to nothing, making it easy to store. The trick is to remember to only use a small amount when cooking. A small handful of broccoli equates to probably two large heads!

Mint drying in homemade hammock 


Today I decided I was going to make my own garlic powder. This is my first time. I love the ease of garlic powder but have not been able to purchase it here in Ladakh the last couple years. First I peeled the garlic. Several tricks, putting cloves in a glass jar and shaking vigorously will remove the skins, or just cutting off the ends and pressing with a knife. After slicing several cloves, I realized how much easier it was to slice long ways, then I spread them on a plate and have them sitting in the sun. Once dry, I will use my little mortar and pestle and grind them. I cant wait! Another way I preserve garlic, this I learned in South America, is to just cover the peeled cloves with olive oil in a glass jar. Then just take out what you want and slice. This also gives me garlic-flavored oil I can use and then I just top it off again with fresh olive oil. I have no refrigeration here (nor an oven) and yet have found that a jar of garlic cloves stored perfectly well for two years.

Drying Variety

I have been drying mint, cilantro, kale, chard, lettuce, tomatoes, dill, lemon balm, sage, basil, chamomile, spinach, carrot leaves, and anything else edible. I have a can full of dried arugula, and lots of broccoli and cauliflower as well. We can never get enough of these it seems. Sometimes I bag dried things together for a green mix, or a broccoli cauliflower mix, other times I separate them. I have a large canister of dried zucchini this year as well. My first good crop, enough to dry and to share with friends and neighbors, as it is a new veggie in this culture. I was delighted to learn last year that I can also dry the sunflower and hollyhock leaves. I have also started drying bananas and found that cutting them in wedges lengthwise works better than slices, which stick to whatever surface there are on unless I can get them to stand up on the edges. My floor and counters are constantly littered with drying things, including plates of seeds: dill, nasturtiums, chard, spinach, carrots, whatever is ready to be stored and planted next year.

I just stepped out to fill my big bucket with drinking water and noticed that the sea buckthorn is ready to collect now. It is a bit of a job as it is dangerously spikey. You have to beat the bush with a stick and collect them on a cloth laid below. Tricky.


I am so grateful for this life, despite the hardships, for me it is what feels real. It pushes me to be strong, resilient, and flexible. I must depend on my own creativity and resourcefulness. It grounds me, connected to the earth, to life, to the offering of water and sunlight. I get so many opportunities to practice patience, acceptance, letting go. Every day is a gift to make it what I can. So deeply and humbly grateful.

Agriculture in Ladakh, Kelly Klein

Silver Tent


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