A vegetable used as a fruit, Rhubarb is a beautiful and highly productive plant to have in your kitchen garden.
Growing Rhubarb requires a well-drained spot with rich soils, in full sun.
Winter is the time to start growing Rhubarb in your garden, with sections of the root (known as crowns) becoming available in garden centres and through online/mail order catalogues. It is also worth keeping an eye out for Rhubarb crowns and potted Rhubarb at school and church fetes.
While we all like the ruby red Rhubarb, green stalk varieties do taste the same, so don’t feel like you have a “dud” plant.
**The only edible part of Rhubarb are the stems, every other part is poisonous**
Find a spot for your Rhubarb that will be a permanent home, preferably not in your main vegetable bed. The Rhubarb really needs room to grow and you don’t want to sacrifice seasonal growing space in your raised bed for this permanent resident, Rhubarb and has different water requirements to the vegetables (needing less).
Dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the crown, adding compost or a product like dynamic lifter if the soil needs enriching. Place the crown in the hole, and cover over with soil. Water in, but be careful with the watering until you see some growth – else the crown will rot.
Rhubarb appreciates regular feeding, particularly higher nitrogen products such as Blood and Bone, Dynamic Lifter, Rapid Raiser, any any aged manure.
Slug ‘n Snail Alert!
You need to product the Rhubarb shoots from these creatures as the buds start developing, either use copper based pellets in your garden, or place traps to control the population.
Divide and Share
After 3 or so years, your Rhubarb can be dug up and divided into crowns – you can give these away as crowns, pot them up and grow them on (then share or sell them), or start a new plant in your own garden.
Young plants should be left to develop for the first year – so fight the urge to start picking the stems. You need to give the crown time to develop and multiply, you WILL be rewarded the following year with many stalks to pick.
The stems should be twisted off the plant rather than cut, just pull each stem downwards and to the side then twist to remove. The leaves can then be cutoff and put in the compost. Alternately, lay the leaves over any weeds in the garden, and they will suppress and kill the weeds as they breakdown.
Remember that the leaves on the stems are creating the energy for the plant, so don’t strip away all the top growth! Deforestation of your Rhubarb will only weaken the crown – you must allow the plant to grow and develop.
The tart flavour of Rhubarb lends itself to pairings with sweeter fruit like Apples and Pears, when stewed for pie fillings and crumbles. Rhubarb also works well with chocolate and any cream or custard concoctions. I like to make a Rhubarb Jam, which is more like a compote really, and is delicious on pancakes with greek yoghurt.
Stewed stem pieces can also be folded into muffin batter and used for an upside down cake topping.