|Healthy Yorkshire food
In writing about gardening myths I sometimes find a grain of truth within them. So too today.
Canadian sleuth Robert Pavlis hunts down gardening myths with great zeal. His blog is solely about gardening myths and his mind is endlessly fertile in seeking and finding fantasy in most unlikely places. His research is precise and he freely provides his own evidence base.
He does home based experiments that expose silly notions. His particular targets are snake oil salesman who brazenly repeat the most outrageous product claims which he fearlessly exposes. I do get the impression that over the pond the public are more gullible than here.
Robert’s discoveries frequently surprise me.A few weeks ago he published his personal top ten myths of the year. I have picked out two to which I have in the past been an unthinking believer and shamelessly admit that my post today plunders his thunder.
Myth *1. Eating rhubarb leaves will kill you …. and it’s the oxalic acid ‘what did it’
Actually two myths in one. You would have to eat oodles of rhubarb leaves to come to harm… and if you do die it isn’t the oxalic acid!
|Not very appetising
Most vegetables contain natural plant toxins. They are their natural defences to pest and disease. Indeed many scientists wonder if the toxins are the reason why vegetables are good for us! The scientific principle is known as hormesis and in a nutshell this hypothesis states ‘a little of what is bad for you does you good’.
It would take 25 grams of oxalic acid to kill us. That is a massive amount. Robert calculates you would need to eat a serving of 5kg of rhubarb leaves. I think he might be wrong in as much as most laboratory measures are ‘dry weight’ in which cases it would take very much more.
|I believe Robert about the oxalic acid but am not minded to try the leaves
|Weight for weight same oxalic acid content
|Three times the oxalic acid
Robert suggests that if small quantities of rhubarb leaves really do harm you the culprit might be anthraquinone glycosides. Even so there are today almost no (or even any) reported deaths of anyone eating rhubarb leaves. With their known laxative properties and no doubt horrible taste there are better ways to go.
|Guess what I am thinking?
Myth *2 Adding peat acidifies your soil
Well of course it does but is the fall in pH significant or long lasting? The answer is a qualified no.
Although I have long considered adding peat to improve a soil as extravagant and arguably environmentally irresponsible I do fear that on public platforms I might have recommended peat to acidify soil. It’s amazing what rubbish gardening experts utter when the listening public expects you to know.
|Granulated sphagnum peat
( I do not regard it environmentally irresponsible to use peat as a compost ingredient although regular readers will know I do not use peat in compost myself)
The thrust of Robert’s argument Is that if your soil contains calcareous matter as alkaline soils invariably do then the capacity of the soil minerals to raise pH change is huge compared to peat’s puny capacity to lower it. Scientists call this resistance ‘buffering capacity’.
Put the argument another way. If you are using a completely peat compost you need very little lime to make your compost as alkaline as pH 8. and to maintain it as such for a fairly long time.
Recall that the mineral content of calcareous soil is lime. Recall too that some peats such as ‘Somerset peat’ form in alkaline conditions and are naturally alkaline.
Soils whose mineral content is mainly silt and/or sand will have less of a buffering capacity that resists soil acidification by adding peat - but often such soils will already be acid
The above argument overlooks that the fact that adding peat might improve the physical nature of your soil and that incorporating peat might improve the growth of acid lovers such as rhododendrons. But please don’t expect miracles on chalk or limestone soils.
Where peat excels is to grow acid loving plants in raised beds of pure peat and other acid ingredients or better, use it in tubs. It needs to be raised otherwise the alkaline water leaching from soil will soon make it alkaline.
|These peat blocks were once very popular for making peat beds
(One of Robert Pavlis’s correspondents wrote that in the USA they grow their precious blueberries on a buried peat bale and that works very well for several years}.
I wrote about how to grow rhubarb and lapsed into Yorkshire dialect
We visited a rhubarb farm
I spoke up for peat compost