Rhubarb

Family: Polygonaceae

Countries: Asia, China, Mongolia

I’m such a fan of Rhubarb; this is such a great plant to grow in your garden, or at your allotment!  Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable that dies back over winter but plants grow new stems and leaves every springtime.  This is a hardy plant that thrives in areas that are blessed with cold but drier winters and enjoy wetter weather, during the spring and summertime.

Strictly speaking, Rhubarb is a vegetable, but due to its tart but sweet flavour, Rhubarb is usually considered and used as a fruit.  It’s eaten in many cooked and baked dishes (mainly sweet dishes, but Rhubarb is used in some savoury dishes, too), as well as in drinks, jams, jellies, and chutneys.  Rhubarb has edible stems that are delicious, but Rhubarb leaves are poisonous – so please don’t be tempted to eat them!

Rhubarb is often advocated as a plant for sunny areas.  However, I’ve found that Rhubarb grows surprisingly well in the shade, as well as in partially shaded areas.  Avoid planting Rhubarb in wet or water-logged soils – Rhubarb appreciates more water in spring and summer, but plants favour drier winters; they won’t flourish in soils that are saturated during the wintertime.

Rhubarb can be covered with a specially designed terracotta forcing pot (an old bin or a flower pot (choose one without a hole so as to create a dark growing environment) would be just as effective) in February or March.  This technique shields daylight from the plants, leaving the plants to grow in darkness, which forces the Rhubarb into produce stems with a sweeter flavour.  However, the harvest will be severely reduced (forced Rhubarb plants produce less than half the quantity of stems that Rhubarb plants produce naturally, without any protection) and the plants will be weakened due to growing in darkness.  If you force your Rhubarb plant one year, you will need to nurture your plant the following year to allow it to recover.  Don’t be tempted to leave your Rhubarb forcer over the plant for too long – as this will be detrimental to your plant – lift the forcer after three to four weeks.  After forcing your Rhubarb plant, allow your plant to rest – don’t be tempted to harvest any stems the following year and never force the same plant more than once.

Plant Rhubarb while it’s dormant in the winter time.  After planting, mulch your Rhubarb plants with garden compost or a good quality peat-free compost.  Don’t harvest any stems from your Rhubarb plants in the first year after planting, to allow your plant to establish itself in its new home.  In the second year after planting, you’re ready to take your first harvest of Rhubarb stems – pull and twist the stem to remove it cleanly, right from the base of the plant.  Be considerate to your plant; don’t harvest too many of your Rhubarb plant’s stems – never strip your plant.  Unless you’re growing a later cropping Rhubarb, cease harvesting your Rhubarb’s stems by the second week in June.  Allow your plant to fully develop all its stems and leaves from mid-summer onwards, as this will strengthen the plant for the following year.

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