Tending rhubarbPosted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
No allotment or garden veg patch should be without a clump of rhubarb, the vivid pink stems forcing their way through the frilly green leaves in late spring – perfect picking for pies and crumbles from early April through to June or July. Rhubarb is a perennial, so all that season’s growth dies off in autumn leaving the ‘crown’ lurking just under the surface of the soil, gathering its strength for the following year.
Rhubarb is easy to grow and although it prefers a sunny spot, should do well in most situations. I have four clumps of rhubarb on my allotment, all grown by dividing a single crown which I was given by a an allotment friend – a straightforward task using a sharp spade, as long as you ensure that each chunk you cut has a good-sized section from the outside of the original crown. Dig a deepish hole, add a handful of bone meal or potash, pop in the chunk of rhubarb and fill in with good compost. The only drawback with planting from a crown which you have been given is that you are unlikely to know the variety – in which case, buy a crown as there are several varieties to choose from. ‘Timperley Early’ is the one to go for if you fancy eating rhubarb in April. Either way, don’t be tempted to harvest spears during the first season, no matter how healthy and tempting they look, as the plant needs to build up its strength. Left alone for the first year, a crown of rhubarb will reward you handsomely in the coming years.
There may be nothing to see apart from a cane marking the spot where the crown is buried, but now is perfect time to give your rhubarb a winter treat. Rhubarb is a hungry plant and during the coming days I’m going to give mine a good feed by heaping some well-rotted manure over the spot where the crowns are. My plants will also appreciate a feed at any time of the year – high potash liquid made from comfrey leaves rotted down in an old plastic barrel.
For super tender, sweet spears of rhubarb, try forcing a well-established crown. Victorian gardeners used tall, cylindrical clay pots for this purpose, the stems reaching up in search of light, their colour blanched from deep mottled crimson to the palest pink as they grow in the semi-darkness. I have an old chimney pot on my allotment which I’ve used successfully to force rhubarb, but the plants are seriously weakened as a result and will need a good year’s rest and lots of feeding to help them recover. If you want to try to force rhubarb, now is the time to put a suitable container over the spot where the crown is, not forgetting to add a good layer of muck first.