Rhubarb is a firm favorite of mine and will be for a long to come. It conjures up many wonderful memories for me. Most of which are around recipes of how I like to eat it, as you have guessed I am fond of what’s on my plate and Rhubarb is one of my top ten vegetables. Yes it’s a vegetable and not a fruit. It can be eaten in sweet or savory ways and as it’s easy to grow it deserves a place in any garden.
There are two types of Rhubarb, evergreen and winter dormant. The winter dormant varieties die down each winter and re-appear when the soil warms in the spring. Glaskins Perpetual is an evergreen variety. Victoria is a common winter dormant variety.
When, where and how to plant:
Rhubarb enjoys a fertile, well drained soil in full sun, it hates wet feet. It won’t grow well in sandy soils unless plenty of organic matter is added. In clay soils, add gypsum or some roughage material such as grit to improve drainage. Rhubarb prefers a cool climate and will withstand cold winters. Prior to planting, blend in compost and or rotted manure to the soil. It can be grown two ways, from seed or by dividing existing plants. Division is the best and quickest option.
Divide by splitting the crown with a sharp spade. Plant the divisions about 1 metre apart with the buds just below soil level. In the first season after dividing only harvest sporadically. Allow the plant to establish and wait patiently until year two for a decent harvest, if you can
If sowing seed, once the seeds have germinated plant out the seedlings and do not disturb through the first year. Rhubarb takes 2 to 3 seasons to establish from seed.
Please note that any flower heads growing from your rhubarb plant should be cut out immediately. Some say flowering is an indication of lack of water or fertilizer.
Established clumps will have to be trimmed every 4 to 5 years or when the stalks start to get small and spindly or when the crown is visibly crowded. This will help the plant to keep growing nice thick stems. This is done by digging around and trimming the crown down to 4 or 5 buds.
- Keep plants well watered through the dry periods. Add a layer of compost or pea straw round the plant to help retain soil moisture. The large green leaves take a lot of water from the plant and lack of water can cause spindly, weak stems.
- Apply a general well balanced fertilizer once a year in the spring. Rhubarb will happily grow in a slightly acidic soil.
- Watch out for slugs and snails. These can be demons on the lush leaves.
- Rhubarb can be forced into growing stalks earlier in the season. While the ground has not warmed up sufficiently for the plant to really get growing, cover plants with a kitchen bucket or cover plant with a thick layer of straw. The plants will begin growing earlier and you can harvest those plants days or weeks before you would normally would.
Pick when the stalks are thick enough, it’s up to you! Larger stalks can sometimes taste bitter and become woody. When harvesting, grasp a stalk firmly close to the ground. Twist and pull the stalk and it should break free of the plant. Do this carefully as you don’t want to break off new shoots while you are picking your crop. If you can’t twist the stems off easily cut the stems off as close to the base of the plant as possible.
Compost the leaves or discard, do not feed to animals or chickens as they are poisonous.
How to use:
Rhubarb is versatile can be used as a sweet or dessert, try in pies, crumbles or in muffins. For a savory option try chutney, sauces, jam and relishes. Or simply cut into 1 inch pieces, add a little water, sprinkle with sugar and boil gently until soft – then serve with cream, custard, ice-cream or a mix of all three. Rhubarb freezes well and will last up to 6 months.
My Rhubarb Crumble:
Simply stew Rhubarb with a little sugar, I use brown sugar. Place is a shallow dish. For the crumble I randomly use quantities of flour, real butter (of course), sugar and chopped Hazelnuts. Cover the Rhubarb with the crumble and bake until it smells divine. 30 mins. Serve with hokey pokey ice-cream or cream fraise.