Radiant Rhubarb

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The full value of Rhubarb, from a health point of view, is not fully realised, but quite apart from this reason, on account of its usefulness as a stewed fruit and for pies, a patch of Rhubarb should be grown by every gardener. Rhubarb is a perennial, and if the ground has been properly prepared and the roots are well fed and occasionally pruned, will continue to yield for 20 years or more.

How to Grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a slightly odd vegetable that most people treat as a fruit. Technically it’s a vegetable, rhubarb is low in calories and high in nutrients like vitamin K and potassium; which most of us don’t get enough of. Rhubarb is great in desserts from tarts, crumbles, puddings, jam and pie – rhubarb is a cooks delight. Rhubarb is wonderful in so many recipes plus with it’s vivid pink stems it’s a fabulous landscape plant and a stately feature in any veggie patch.

Rhubarb is a cool season herbaceous perennial; the best stem colour is produced at 10°C. A leafy plant, reaching a meter in height, with thick red stalks. It requires a cold winter and can be hard to grow in areas with very hot summers or high humidity, but on the whole rhubarb is easily grown.

Soil for Rhubarb

Don’t try to grow rhubarb unless you can give the soil an overdose of old stable manure or compost.

Rhubarb requires a deep, rich, light, sandy, well-drained soil, and while it will yield a crop in heavy soil, gives comparatively poor results. As the Rhubarb bed is to last for several years, thorough and proper soil preparation is essential. The ground must be thoroughly dug to a depth of at least 2 feet, the soil finely broken up, and a liberal application of well-rotted stable or cow manure worked well into the ground. Good rhubarb comes only from an abundance of plant food; and you’ll be wasting your time if you can’t supply it. But, with plenty of manure, compost and plenty of water, you can grow bumper crops. A heavy manure dressing each winter will work wonders.

You can buy established crowns at almost any time, but in cold-climate gardens, winter planting gives best results.

Plant the roots in rows 4 feet apart, allowing 4 feet between each plant in the rows. When putting out the roots see that the crowns are not covered with more than 2 inches of soil.

Place a tub or an old pail over the crowns in February, and cover with dead leaves or old sacking and remove in Spring.
Do not gather Rhubarb after the end of June, for the plants require the large leaves to make roots for the next year’s growth.

General care of Rhubarb

Keep the ground regularly cultivated between the rows and around the plants to destroy weeds, and to preserve the sur­ face mulch until the leaves cover the ground. During the first year after planting, it is not advisable to gather any stalks, so as to strengthen the young plants and thereby to increase the yields in subsequent growths.

Rhubarb must have plenty of sun; and complete fertiliser to each plant in preparing the soil, will pay dividends.

Harvesting Rhubarb

When gathering, give the leaf stalks a sharp twist at the bend where they join the crown, and then pull. Rhubarb may be forced by placing a barrel, tub or box around each plant, and piling around it fresh and hot manure. The tub, box, or whichever is used, must be open both top and bottom. The leaves from these plants may be picked until the unforced plants have begun to yield, and providing they are then spelled no ill results will follow.

Dividing Rhubarb

Dividing rhubarb root. About every four or five years the roots may be taken up, separated, and then reset in the same ground. The Home Gardener will find it more convenient to cut off the outer roots with a spade without disturbing the part to be left in the ground. To increase the stock, take up the roots in late Autumn and divide with a spade, leaving three crowns on each root. Rhubarb can be left in the ground and will return a crop for many years, at least 10 to 15 years.

Growing Rhubarb from seed

Except when the plants are grown for commercial purposes, the culture of Rhubarb from seed is hardly worth the effort, and the Home Gardener it’s strongly recommended you save yourself much trouble and time by planting the roots. Rhubarb seed may be sown either in small beds, where the plants are to remain, or thinly in drills 2 feet apart, and the seedlings later transplanted to their permanent position. Sow the seed during Spring, and transplant the seedlings out where they are to remain. As soon as the seedlings are well above the ground, thin out to 15 inches apart, so as to give the roots plenty of room to develop. Where the seed is sown in patches thin out to three plants, and where these are making good progress (about a month later) thin out to one plant, selecting the strongest and most promising specimen.

Rhubarb Tips

  • Rhubarb leaves are not edible, they contain high percent of oxalic acid which is toxic for humans and animals
  • Rhubarb produces small flowers arranged in large clusters for pollination by wind and can self pollinate
  • The Colour of the stalk determines the taste – the sweeter stalks are more intensely red colored
  • You can buy rhubarb ‘forcers’ to intensify rhubarb taste and colour

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