Don’t be a Fool – Grow Your Own Rhubarb!

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Rhubarb crowns on sale now (March 2021)

‘TIMPERLEY EARLY’ – £2.50 each or 3 for £7

The earliest cultivar, it produces high yields of thick stems, deep red at the base, fading to light green with red flecks. Bred for forcing but crops very well outside. May be harvested Feb-March or earlier when forced. (Colour is better when forced.) May need protection from frost. Height and spread 1-1.5m x 1.5-2.5m. RHS Award of Garden Merit.

‘VICTORIA’ – £3.50 each or 3 for £10

A popular heritage variety introduced in 1837 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria and responsible for starting the Victorian obsession with rhubarb. Has thick, vivid red stalks, flecked at the top. The red flesh, tinged green, has a sweet flavour and good texture. Harvest May to July (when forced Feb-March). Height and spread 60cm x 1m.

‘Victoria’ rhubarb crowns on sale at Mousehold Garden Centre

Traditional frost-proof terracotta rhubarb forcers with lids – small £29.99 and large £49.99.

Traditional frost-proof rhubarb forcer on sale at Mousehold Garden Centre

Considered a fruit, although grown as a vegetable, rhubarb (Rheum x hybridum) is commonly used in desserts but may also be used in savoury recipes. It’s an easy crop to grow, so great for beginner gardeners! Harvested in early spring before other fruits are ready, it’s a hardy perennial, so once you’ve got it, you’ve got it for good! Originating from Asia over 2000 years ago, it was first cultivated as a medicinal plant but began to be grown for culinary purposes in Britain during the 18th century. During the second world war rhubarb was a dietary staple of the British people and the price was controlled by the government so that it was available to all. The large green leaves of rhubarb are actually poisonous but the pink/red stems may be cut and used in pies, jams, jellies, sauces and juices.

Rhubarb crowns may be planted from autumn to spring. They’re best situated in a sunny spot in any well-drained soil which has had plenty of well-rotted manure dug in. Make sure the top of the crown sits 3cm below soil level, and space them at 75cm intervals. Keep plants well-watered in their first year and apply an annual mulch of home-made compost or manure. Cut back old leaves in autumn to expose the growing points to winter cold. Do not harvest the stalks in their first year, instead let the crowns get well established. In the second year you may harvest up to half the stems, leaving the rest to mature. In subsequent years harvest from late spring to mid-late summer.

Rhubarb can also be ‘forced’ (cultivated in complete darkness) to produce extra-early crops in late winter. Forcing rhubarb began in Yorkshire in 1877 after the accidental discovery of the method at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817. Since 2010 Yorkshire forced rhubarb has had Protected Designation of Origin status. Forcing gives the stalks a sweeter and more delicate flavour. You can force your rhubarb by covering a healthy crown with a rhubarb forcer (or even a tall bucket). To further speed up the process, insulate the forcer by packing straw or compost around the outside (the lower part only). Early rhubarb shoots will soon appear and should be harvested within 2 – 4 weeks. Let the crown regain its vigour by cropping naturally the following year. Only use established plants for forcing, and plant two or more crowns so they can rest in alternate years.

How to force rhubarb

How to harvest rhubarb

Rhubarb Fool recipe

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