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This Everest Greenhouse Is One of the Highest Gardens in the World

Food
This Everest Greenhouse Is One of the Highest Gardens in the World
Frank Giustra

By Frank Giustra

Food has never been the main attraction—or even a side attraction—of my trekking adventures. Instead, it has primarily been an inconvenient necessity, largely consisting of rice, beans and other forms of sustenance. Without fresh vegetables, herbs and garlic, it all starts to taste the same after a day or two.


Of course, mountain adventures aren't about the food. They are about fulfilling ambitions, testing both your physical and mental limits and maybe learning something new about yourself. Sometimes, too, there's a lesson in there about horticulture.

Last year, I trekked with a group of friends to Everest Base Camp for our second high-altitude adventure. (Two years earlier, we summited Kilimanjaro at 19,300 feet.) Everest Base Camp wasn't as challenging as Kilimanjaro—it was 2,000 feet lower than Kilimanjaro and not nearly as steep of a climb.

Frank Giustra

But there was more to see on the Everest walk. Kilimanjaro was mostly bare rocks, while the Everest views were filled with snowy peaks and tiny villages. We slept in small lodges and visited cultural sites along the way, including a monastery where we were blessed by a Nepalese monk.

And then there was the food, including the unexpected gardens. During our Kilimanjaro trek, our daily sustenance consisted of the aforementioned rice and beans and a lot of ginger tea. But on our Everest trip, we had a much wider variety of food. There were lots of potatoes and French fries, processed meats, soups and, at one point, yak cheese (which I can tell you is nothing like Asiago or Parmesan).

However, the food took a surprising turn when we reached the house of our lead guide, Ang Temba Sherpa. Temba had summited Everest once and would have attempted it again if he hadn't promised his mother that he would never go back after she found out he had gone up the first time. He and his wife, Yangzee, live at 13,100 feet in the village of Pangboche, on the trail to Mount Everest. Once we had taken off our boots and settled in for a rest, Yangzee made us a delicious dinner, the most memorable parts of which were the vegetable side dishes and a fresh salad.

Frank Giustra

The Sherpas in the area can normally only grow potatoes. They live amid some of the most spectacular high-mountain scenery in the world, referring to the Khumbu Valley as "beyul," which means "blessed sanctuary." But it is a hardscrabble life high in the Himalayas. The Sherpa people must travel throughout the year to survive—in monsoon season, when they can graze their yaks, they move up the valley. To purchase rice, salt, spices and staples, they trek down the valley to the trading village of Namche Bazaar. Everything is carried by porters or on the backs of yaks. There are no wheeled vehicles, bicycles, ox-drawn carts or motor vehicles in the Khumbu—the trails are just too steep.

So, in 2012, without an alternative means to get fresh vegetables, Temba and his wife decided to build their own greenhouse at 13,000 feet. Using stones and mud for the walls and corrugated plastic and plastic sheeting for the roof, they crafted a utilitarian greenhouse. Now, they are able to grow tomatoes, bok choy, broccoli, cucumber, squash and lettuce throughout the year, as well as flavor-boosting herbs like mint, chives and coriander.

Frank Giustra

In recent years, the growing staple of Khumbu (Sherpa) agriculture at these altitudes has changed: Sherpas began to bring in outside seeds for potatoes, as the new varieties grow faster. But they also lack flavor and longevity and rot much faster when stored in the ground, as Sherpas have traditionally done. Buckwheat, a nutritious grain that is essential for growing children who live at high altitudes, is also widely grown in the area.

Another challenge in recent years has been a lack of snow on the ground during winter. While temperatures are still extremely cold—perhaps even colder than before—without the snow cover, the soil is too dry in the spring, making the start of growing season difficult. Then add monsoon season—the constant rains from mid-June to early September—to the mix. Here, farmers are seeing more rain than ever before—and too much of it.

Difficulties aside, Temba and his wife are rightfully proud of their greenhouse and gave me a tour, describing each vegetable variety as if it were one of their children. We enjoyed a great evening at their lodge, which included a viewing of Everest memorabilia and fascinating photos that they had collected over the years. But the best part had to be that salad at 13,000 feet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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