Rhubarb: the promise of Spring to come!

At Don’t Crop Me Now the rhubarb crop is well on it’s way. It is surprising to look at the growth rates of different varieties. Timperley Early is always well ahead and I think we will be cropping this within 2 weeks. Victoria is a much later variety and we also have an ‘unknown’ variety that is somewhere in the middle. I think this may be ‘champagne’. This produces very pretty pink (and sweet) stalks even without forcing.

Rhubarb is a perenial crop, most commonly, grown for it’s edible stalks. The large leaves contain high levels of a chemical called oxalic acid making them inedible. This does mean that the leaves can be used to make a natural pesticide which is effective in killing aphids.

In order to do this chopped 2 or 3 rhubarb leaves and boil in a pot of water for 30 minute. Strain and add to a spray bottle to treat an infestation.

Although rhubarb is a vegetable, in the UK rhubarb is traditionally used as a fruit; most commonly to produce jams, pies and crumbles. Rhubarb is actually a very diverse ingredient. It has a very tart flavour (without additional sugar), but this does work well in savoury dishes.

Ours favourite recipes with rhubarb:
1. Crumble, of course!
2. Stir fried with capers to top grilled mackeral fillets
3. Simply served stewed with greek yoghurt
4. As an addition to a fruity curry or pilau-type rice

Growing rhubarb
Rhubarb is very easy crop to grow. Plant crowns whilst they are dormant from Nov to January. Keep rhubarb free of weeds by covering the ground with a mulch of composted manure or leaf mulch, but avoid burying the crown as it will rot. Rhubarb is quite tough, but you may need to water in extended dry periods to stop it bolting (going to seed). Avoid cropping from plants in their first year to allow the energy to be taken into the roots for growth.

You can crop rhubarb from end of February onwards through to July. From July the crop becomes even more tart and will becoming ‘stringy’ by mid August so it is best to cease cropping by this time at the latest. When the top growth dies back in autumn, remove the dead leaves to expose the crown to frost – this will help break dormancy and ensure a good crop of stalks the following year.

To get an earlier crop, you can force stems. To force stems, cover the crown with a traditional forcing jar, bucket or upturned pot in late winter, ensuring that all light is blocked out. Forced stems are lighter-coloured and more tender than those grown in the open, and are generally ready three weeks earlier.