No other plant in the vegetable garden tends to get neglected more than rhubarb. It is probably because Rhubarb is a long term resident of its own particular part of the patch! Familiarity breeds contempt. But, Rhubarb can actually be grown properly!
It is often acquired from a previous owner, and left untended for years - other than the sudden burst of attention it gets by way of cutting in the spring and early summer.
Rhubarb is one of the few perennial vegetables, and as such will give you years of succulent stems (yes really) with just a little attention each year. We say this, because it is often one of the most neglected plants to be grown in the vegetable garden.
Rhubarb is one of the first vegetable that can be harvested each year. It emerges after even the severest of winters, even going unnoticed until it has past its best! Then it has a rather sharper taste, and gets neglected even further.
By convention, Rhubarb is normally grown somewhere in the vegetable area, but it can also be grown in other areas such as borders and beds. It is not demanding of sun or shade, good or bad soil - though it does best in a well drained fertile soil! Its main preference is not to be grown in waterlogged areas.
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, and this may be the best option if you are trying to get a specific variety - of which there are several. Other than that, they are best grown from root cuttings. In this case a root cutting is simply a lump cut off with a spade or sharp knife in mid autumn whilst dormant.
Plant the crown of the root cutting just below soil level.
It is a good idea to have prepared the area first with some compost, and also ensure that there are no weeds in the area as it is a perennial and will be staying where planted for several years. For most families a couple of clumps is more than enough, but a single clump normally suffices.
Mulch a couple of times in the year to keep the soil fertility level up. This is best done after harvesting in the spring, then again in autumn before the winter sets in. Water the crowns well if needed during the summer months.
Rhubarb plants have a slightly attractive flower, but this is best removed as soon the stalk begins to grow.
The plant will die down each autumn - a good time for the mulch. Not too deep, and not directly on top of the crown.
The rhubarb crowns will need to be divided every four to five years or so.
Each spring, cover the crown with a bottomless bucket or bin, and fill with straw. This will exclude the light and give a little warmth which will allow harvesting a few weeks earlier than normal. Alternatively a bucket ‘with’ a bottom can be used if you are not bothered about getting some early stems.
The stems should be pulled off rather than cut. Stop harvesting by the middle of summer to allow the plant to build up strength ready for the following year. You will probably stop harvesting then because the stems become less succulent and a little bitter to taste.
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