Grow your Own Rhubarb

 Grow Rhubarb

Grow Rhubarb
Grow Rhubarb
Rhubarb always reminds me of my childhood and our rambling great Garden at the very end of which was the Rhubarb Patch. This was an out of the way area that my Father had once stored a heap of horse manure in, The manure had mostly been used over the rest of the garden, and to fill the vacant space he had planted some Rhubarb. And didn’t it grow ! I still recall, in the early Spring , my Mother sending myself and my sister to see if it was ready yet for pulling and our delight when we returned to the kitchen with great arms full of bright red stalks. Rhubarb pie and Custard for tea!

Rhubarb has had something of a renascence in recent years – and rightly so- Celebrity chefs have seized upon its many unique qualities to create the most delicious recipes and the food industry generally have taken to using it as ’Something a bit Different’ to flavour many manufactured and processed foods.

Rhubarb is not a difficult plant to grow. It’s main requirement is good drainage and a rich soil. It will tolerate a reasonable amount of shade, so can be grown in the Garden as an ornamental addition to a mixed border of shrubs or perennial plants. It can also be successfully cultivated in containers. One thing to remember when choosing the site is that it will remain in situ for quite a few years, and you will not be able to cultivate the ground near to it.

Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but this is quite a long winded process so I would always recommend that you start off with plants – known as crowns – which can be easily purchased from all Garden Centres. November and December are the perfect planting months for Rhubarb, but if the plants are pot grown then they can go in at any time.

Preparation of the planting site is most important. Good drainage and rich soil are the order of the day. Mix plenty organic material into the planting site; the preferred option would be Farm Yard Manure, but if this is not available then Garden compost or bagged Multi-Purpose compost will suffice.

Plant the crowns just a bit deeper than they were previously. They will need to be well firmed in so that they have a good adhesion to the soil. Plant the crowns 60-70 centimetres apart, if you are planting in a bed system then stagger the plants at this spacing. Once planted mulch over the bed with whatever organic matter you have used in the preparation and then top dress with a good scattering of Blood Fish and Bone or Growmore.

Check on the new planting periodically during the first Winter to make sure nothing has tried to pull the crowns out of the ground – Blackbirds and Thrushes will have a go at anything new looking. The only other thing to do is as the Spring advances is to keep the area weed free by either shallow hoeing or hand weeding, what ever you do ,do not disturb the soil around the crowns.

In the first growing season you may look, but you must not touch ! The plan is to let the crowns build up there shore of carbohydrates and increase in size, so as to give you plenty of yield in future years. The second season you may take between 2 and 3 stalks from each crown and there after only remove half of the available stems in any one Summer. The plant can only restore it’s strength by gathering energy from it’s huge leaves and returning this as carbohydrate back to the crown.

Always remember that Rhubarb is a hungry feeder so top dress Spring and Autumn with Blood Fish and Bone or Grow more.

An added bonus to growing Rhubarb is that you can get a very early crop by ‘Forcing’ This is achieved by placing over a few selected crowns a light proof receptacle like a bucket or large pot. If you are keen on the aesthetics of you Garden then you can buy really very attracting Rhubarb Forcing pots. What ever you use the idea is very simple. In early February you select your chosen crown or crowns and cover them over. I remember my Aunt Doris, who first showed me this method, used to put dry straw over the crown first and then the cover. This is not a bad idea if you can do it as it helps to warm things up more quickly and as a result, gives you your tender young Rhubarb sticks that bit sooner.

A mention here about the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ This is and area of West Yorkshire that has, since the end of the 19th Century, specialized in producing Early Forced Rhubarb. The crowns are planted out in fields for 2 years where they are fed and nurtured with love, affection and lots of manure. Then they are lifted very early in the year and taken into enormous heated sheds that have no windows, so they are completely in the dark. The crowns are stood up and packed together and in this dark, warm environment they soon send up there tender young stalks. The growers are so paranoid about excluding even the smallest chink of light that the crop is harvested by candle light!

Chefs and other aficionados will tell you that the resultant Rhubarb is the sweetest and tastiest you will ever experience.

One final word of warning. Rhubarb leaves and roots are extremely poisonous. They contain ’Oxalic Acid’ which is highly toxic. The rule is – Only eat the red bits!

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