Published: 16 January 2014
Sue's Views: Week 13
Sue gets down to some facts about soil science, discussions on Biodynamics and plenty of practical horticulture following the Christmas break.
Happy New Year!
I hope you’ve all had a truly relaxing and restorative Christmas. I had an especially good time this year, thanks to the company of my family and precious Spanish friends. I am also very grateful to Tina, who lent me the most marvellous book about family festivals. It gave me some great ideas about secret santa presents, poems, special wrapping… we even made a gingerbread-house stage for our puppets. Loads of old fashioned fun.
This week I returned to the horticulture course and caught up with all the old (and not so old) faces. We’re all still going which is great. I think that says a lot for the fascinating course and calibre of our teachers. Despite the challenge of seemingly impossible assignments I would have to say “it’s all good”. Having completely forgotten about micronutrients over Christmas, Darren brought us back to his favourite subject – SOIL. We had four hours on pH and cation exchange. This might sound deadly but actually it took me right back to the joys of chemistry A level. All those electrons whizzing around trying to find a stable place to stay. The beauty of how life works on a microscopic scale.

At the opposite extreme, Jane has been teaching us about Biodynamic farming. Now this is more on the cosmic scale. Coming from a scientific background, I do like things to be fact based. But as I’ve got older I’m definitely more open to a spiritual dimension. Gaia theory and Goethian botany enthralled me and have deepened my appreciation of plants and their role on our planet. In my limited reading so far, biodynamics seem to be even further out there, or as Jane helpfully described it “organics plus”. If anyone has any biodynamic experience I’d love to hear from you so I can understand the whole area better.
We planted some plum trees with Jane, and learnt all about grafting and choosing root stock. There are three sizes of root stock, depending on how big you want your trees to grow. I’m really keen to plant a plum and an apple in our garden, but only really have room for them if they are espaliered (is that a word?). Jane said it might be more sensible to actually get the middle size root stock if the top of the tree is going to be constrained or the whole thing may be too small. I also asked Jane about my strawberry cuttings. They looked good with new little green leaves until about a week ago. Suddenly they just died for no apparent reason. She thought maybe a fungus got them. Oh well. My winter salads are looking good and I took some blackcurrant cuttings so maybe they’ll do better.

We did loads of pruning this week. I would advise anyone, before they even start, to put on lots of clothes. We got really cold, probably because we spent too much time thinking and not enough climbing and cutting! It’s a very rewarding occupation though. We did ‘dead, diseased and dying’, making sure we created space for the light to come in. Taking care not to cut out more than a quarter of the tree. We pruned the apples at school farm and quinces at Dartington. I always feel these trees welcome you in to Dartington gardens, they are so neat and appealing.
I’ve now got to bite the bullet and throw myself back into assignments. Darren’s is ok about the plant nutrients but Jane’s poster which is meant to include everything from permaculture to energy sources to food outlets is somewhat mind boggling. And of course there are all those Latin names I meant to learn over Christmas…
Reported by Sustainable Suzi  

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