Damson Cottage Garden

Rhubarb

This week I harvested vast quantities of rhubarb. I think every vegetable garden should have a rhubarb plant. Ours is in the centre of our front garden and I love it. It bursts into leaf in early spring and is the first home grown fruit we eat every year.

It is so easy to grow, we bought two small plants from Cambridge market 3 years ago, planted them into the soil with a shovel or two of well rotted manure and they have rewarded us every year with copious amounts of fruit. You have to be patient in the first year and not pick any stalks (however sorely you are tempted!) as the plant is not yet fully established and this may damage it.

Our rhubarb harvest

So expensive to buy in the supermarket, so cheap and easy to grow

I harvested about 1/8th of the plant stalks and left the rest on the plant. I will take some more once it has had a week or so to recover. Monty Don says not to harvest more than half of the stalks and I try to stick to this advice. I have found the easiest way to remove the stalks is to hold the stalk as low down as possible, then twist and pull. This is supposed to cause less damage to the plant than cutting the stalk.

While removing some stalks I noticed two Rhubarb flower heads hiding behind the leaves. These should be removed as we want the plant to put its energy into making more stalks rather than producing flowers.

Rhubarb plant after harvesting the stems

Rhubarb plant after harvesting the stems

This year we had excess compost from our chickens so I spread a layer, about 6 inches thick, around the plant to mulch it, taking care not to cover the crown (base) as this could make it rot. Mulching helps reduce evaporation and so stops the plant drying out and also feeds it.┬áIf it gets really hot the leaves begin to wilt and it will need a good water, otherwise it’s extremely low maintenance.

Just eat the stalks – the leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous but can be put on the compost heap. Sarah, my sister, made an enormous rhubarb pie which, of course, we will have with copious amounts of custard! If you have too much rhubarb you can freeze it. I stew it first with sugar then put it into freezer bags to defrost and use later. Rhubarb also makes excellent jam.

Let me know if you have any tips for growing or using rhubarb, Jane

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