Food and Water Systems

Local and Organic Food 

Garden strip

We try to produce as much of our own food at SECMOL as we can. We still do have to buy a lot of supplies from the market, but we try to grow as much as possible, then buy from farmers in Ladakh, and finally what we can’t get from Ladakh at all, we buy from Leh market. Students and staff learn every year from each other and from the practical experience.

Organic Gardens and Trees

When SECMOL first came to this location it was a completely barren plateau above the Indus River. Now gardens and several thousand trees are making it green. Water has always been the limiting factor but the greenery expands every year. We use manure from our own cows and composting toilets, and have never used chemical fertilisers or pesticides.
Garden at SECMOL September 2013
September 2013.

First garden 1995 or 96
1995, the same angle as the photo above.

Our own dairy


Jigmet Lamo milking 2006Students take care of three cows, milking them for the kitchen and making sure they have food and water, and when needed calling the vet. Most of the kitchen food waste is happily eaten by the cows.

Preserving food for winter

The roads connecting Ladakh to the rest of India close for 4 or 5 months of winter, and there are no vegetables for sale from outside of Ladakh during those months.

We can buy locally stored root vegetables such as onions, potatoes and carrots, and also we store those ourselves in an underground root cellar.

We produce as much as we can in our greenhouses, but in winter they are best for producing leafy green vegetables. In spring we start seedlings for the gardens in the greenhouses.

Drying tomatoes in glassroom
Adding variety to our winter diet, we dry vegetables that are not available in winter.

We make apricot jam with just fruit and sugar, no preservatives.

Pickles in greenhouse

Fermented pickles (Ladakhi anchar and Korean kimchi) stay good all winter.

Wild Food

A few wild edibles grow abundantly in the area, and in their seasons we collect them, a great learning experience for the students and all involved. Students from Sham know about caper shoots (Ladakhi kabra), but those from other regions learn how to collect and prepare this delicious vegetable every May. We also sometimes salt a few jars of Italian-style caper buds for experience, and we have planted capers in the dry edges of the campus as the existing wild plants are a bit far away. Ladakhi shangsho, pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium) grows rampantly along the sides of the Indus River and rebounds vigorously after we collect it, so we collect several sacks full every April and May, and the stand increases year by year. It is the earliest spring vegetable; and is so abundant that we enjoy plenty fresh and also dry a lot for winter. We have transplanted two type of wild onion family plants, Ladakhi skotse (wild chives) and Ladakhi kyu, to the campus.

When weeding, we take some of the edible and delicious plants to the kitchen, and the rest to our cows.

Water Supply

The campus has two sources of water with pipes buried 3 feet (1m) underground, so they run all year and do not freeze in winter. For drinking and domestic use, a solar-powered pump lifts from a 130-foot (40m) deep bore-well. For irrigation, a pipe from the nearby stream provides spring-water in winter and spring, and mountain meltwater in summer.

Composting Toilets

Traditional Ladakhi-style dry composting toilets use no water (important in this desert climate), and the manure is useful for fertilising fields and trees.

A pair of manure chambers under each user’s toilet room allows us to fill one chamber for a year while the other chamber composts. When a chamber has to be emptied it hasn’t been used for a year, so the manure is well composted.


In the extremely arid desert climate of Ladakh, no water should ever be wasted. The wastewater from our bathing block and kitchen runs to canals supplying water to trees. Topsoil teems with aerobic organisms that quickly break down all the soap and bits of food into composted nutrients available to the roots of the plants. Willows, especially, thrive on the regular moisture, and the apricot and apple trees appreciate the extra nutrients from the kitchen.