Published: 09 December 2013
Sue's Views: Week 9
A week where new, and varied experiences filled the days at Dartington for Sue
I was just thinking I could do with learning how to divide plants when Jenny at School Farm said we were going to divide rhubarb. They have quite a few of these plants in their glass houses and grow them freely rather than forcing them. I’m considering planting some forced rhubarb in my garden as this is the time to plant and I don’t have enough room for a full spreading plant. 
My lettuces I definitely planted too late and also put them in a place that was too dark. It seemed light enough by my French doors but apparently a greenhouse would have been much better. They’ve shot up really fast but not grown any leaves apart from the first little pair and are now so tall they have fallen over. Jenny helpfully says “they are so easy to grow” and suggests replanting them deeper. However, I have already lost patience with them and they have been ‘thrown to the pigeons’ in the veg bed. I think one might have survived. Luckily the Pak choi looked happier. I think I’d better cover them tonight as it’s meant to be frosty.
Jenny showing us a rhubarb crown

Anyway- back to rhubarb. The whole dividing and replanting thing never really happened as there are vine weevils in the roots of the rhubarb, these are white grub, C shape about 1cm long. They eat the roots of any plants so are bad news. Being organic, Jenny and her team have to use biological controls (nematodes) and this is not the right time of year. So we bagged up the rhubarb to be processed by the local council, the soil will be treated next year. 

I did find out a bit about rhubarb: you shouldn’t pick it the first year it’s grown, only lightly the second, but should then get 8 or 10 years of harvesting. It’s also a good idea not to pick any more stalks after august. This then allows some plant to die back and feed the underground crown with energy and nutrients for the next year. We had a look around the rest of the plot, admiring the mostly happy veg. 

There was a little rust on the leeks and also something that looked a bit like mould on the black kale (cavolo nero). Nobody knew what it was. Any ideas?
At Dartington gardens we were identifying evergreen plants. There is an amazing plant Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) that has adapted to a dry environment by using its stem to create leaf like structures. This reduces the transpiration (water loss) that would happen from a true leaf. It’s weird to look at as the flowers and fruit appear to be growing from the middle of a ‘leaf’. 

I took myself up to Highcross House yesterday which is a Bauhaus design building on the Dartington estate. It’s currently run by the National Trust but I gather that’s going to change soon. The Elmhurst’s had it built for the headmaster of the school they created. It’s an incredible structure. Very modernist- simple lines and open spaces. I had a delicious bowl of fresh tomato soup looking right down the valley towards Schumacher. An audio system was playing people’s memories from the 1920s. Everything from recognising famous composers wandering the fields to describing white rats which sat on a toy train zooming round the house. If ever I wanted to go back in time and experience something for myself, this was the time.

I also noticed an amazing Acer in the Japanese garden. The colours here at the moment are not to be missed. Pick a sunny day to come along!
Reported by Sustainable Suzi  

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