Friday 1 April 2016

Yorkshire Rhubarb Farm

Day out for the infamous five
Julie organised our great day
The highlight on our calendar was a visit to the rhubarb farm. Arrangements were made by Peter’s wife Julie affectionally dubbed ‘management’. In order to make a day of it we were also to look at a near wildlife park on the site of one of Peter’s reclaimed slag heaps. And to to add a little none horticultural culture for Cathi, Julie and Brenda we were to go to trendy Wakefield to visit the Barbara Hepworth sculpture museum where they were making it really special by holding a photographic exhibition about the history of Yorkshire rhubarb.

I have written before about how to grow rhubarb and how the famous Yorkshire rhubarb triangle between Rothwell, Morley and Wakefield grows the world’s finest rhubarb. Historically the rhubarb centre for Europe with nearly 200 farms it is now experiencing something of a revival, sadly with less than ten growers!
Our day started at Carlton, centre of the famous triangle. Wonderfully empty of large retail chains we had a fantastic breakfast at a small homely café.

Rhubarb in the field takes two years to grow strong plants that are lifted and ‘forced’ in mild heat after carting inside into very dark sheds. The rhubarb stalks grow red, long, juicy and tender. The only illumination is candles and these are limited to visits, crop management and picking.

Let's light a candle
The growth is etiolated

Darkness is essential for tender quality
When the rhubarb is first lifted from the field a third is immediately divided and replanted and the rest is brought inside for forcing. The plants are productive for about six weeks before exhausted they are returned to the field as compost.

A very old family firm
We visited Oldroyds. What a fine Yorkshire name. The family has been growing rhubarb for several generations. Both Peter and myself have visited rhubarb farms before with our students. These days the public can visit and pay 
After coffee - in plastic cups - and biscuits from a tin, we were sat down in a comfy warm shed and given an unillustrated lecture. (We were in Yorkshire after all and the coffee was infinitely better than the grey sickly water served to us yesterday in a posh garden centre in Bridlington).

We enjoyed our coffee 

You can see from his hat that it was ‘a bit parky’
The introductory lecture was interesting but directed at auntie and uncle on a day out in a charabanc. Peter rolled his eyes and promptly fell asleep. I gleaned a few items of interest and Brenda and Julie got a few rhubarb recipes and culinary ideas. 

We learned that rhubarb can go straight in the freezer 
We all know that rhubarb leaves contain toxic oxalic acid. Apparently early in World War 2 the government put out an advisory leaflet stating you could eat rhubarb leaves. It was quickly and quietly withdrawn. You will find little reference to that in your history books. Not that the quality of nutritional advice is now much improved.
According to our guide some of the apparent health benefits  of rhubarb are now thought to be due to the very low levels of oxalic acid in the pink stalks. Music to my ears to hear of yet another example of a toxic material at very low concentrations being beneficial.

Our guide, a sturdy scion of the Oldroyd family was a mine of information
I asked her whether they cut or pulled rhubarb. (I usually cut my own). She explained that it is essential to pull forced rhubarb because the cut stubs encourage disease. The picture suggests there may be exceptions
We then adjourned to the sheds. I was surprised and delighted that our camera flashes were allowed.
Pulled every four days and they were pulling today
London chefs love it
What has Cathi found here?
Needless to say at the end of our visit we were able to buy premium London premier-chef rhubarb cheaply. Although my (unforced) rhubarb was just about ready at home Brenda still made a small purchase! I can guarantee that it makes a very nice crumble

Its amazing what you can do with rhubarb

A note about wool shoddy
Peter and I quizzed one of our guides, a jovial loquacious son of the soil. I thought that wool shoddy manure which is a by-product of the wool industry - previously in even steeper decline than rhubarb - is no longer available. That is untrue and piles of the itchy stuff are spread on the fields. Apparently wool clippings comes from the mills in a variety of guises and those of the dusty kind are not very pleasant.
It is the traditional ‘slow release fertiliser’ that releases its nitrogen over a period of two or three years. It comes cheaply in huge loads. 
I am amazed that no entrepreneur has offered to retail it to organic gardeners. After all they pay a great deal for dubious fertilisers and this one actually works!

Traditional rhubarb production was very hard

Down the road there was another farmer’s farm shop - I thank them for their informative pictures of traditional production

The day ended with a spot of culture in Wakefield
In my previous post on rhubarb I used Yorkshire dialect


  1. We have a very old rhubarb plant that we keep in a pot almost as a pet. Last year we ate nothing from it but enjoyed its huge leaves. This year its leaves haven't begun to unfurl yet (though they are green). At their early stages I find them a bit un-nerving - they look a bit monster-from-out-of-space-y.

  2. Trendy Wakefield? So did you not meet the high priestess herself? My sister lives in Rothwell so we often visit the farm shop. There is controversy about where the actual triangle is - see my map here (I didn't like to presume and do a direct link).
    I prefer my rhubarb unforced and I pull! Which park did you visit?

    1. I thought you were the high priestess! You can put a link to your blog anytime. I know you have blogged about rhubarb and Haigh Woodland Park which I will be reporting on soon
      PS I have forgotten the name of the farm shop pictured at the end of the post. If you want to give them a mention please do so

  3. The sign is by the door. The rhubarb triangle farm shop.

  4. I have only unforced rhubarb in the garden, which I pull. Never seen a rhubarb farm here, but I know they eat more rhubarb in England than in our country. It was a very interesting post.

  5. Very mixed and enjoyable post Roger, surely many drugs used in medicine today are potentially toxic in larger doses. Loved your "shoddy" comments and rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb..............

  6. There was a great news round feature on this,


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