12 Nov 2013
Sticks of potential..
In between normal weekend routine stuff and rainfall, I managed to squeeze a couple of hours in the veg patch. There's mainly just clearing and tidying now, including putting away bags of compost until next year, emptying and cleaning pots, chopping back herbs that have flopped (and preserving for winter where possible). All this in preparation for mulching and bulb planting.
So what's all this to do with the rhubarb? The top herb bed was tidied a week ago (horseradish, a couple of mints, rosemary, fennel) and I'd planned to do the bottom herb bed yesterday - the pineapple sage and lovage had got blown over in the recent storms. The sage got a stay of execution thanks to its glorious fuchsia pink flower spikes plus I got distracted on the way down the path by the enormous rhubarb.
It's a Glaskins Perpetual which I grew from seed in 2012, in a pot. It survived so, in early spring, I planted it out into the veg patch. The patch isn't big so I dithered over where to put it (hence why it stayed in its pot for so long), in the end just plonking it into a large space. It obviously loves where it is (heavily mulched clay soil) and is now enormous. All those big leaves are just the one plant! Unfortunately it's overhanging the path so it was tidy up time for the rhubarb.
I've resisted picking any stalks this past year so that the plant could get established. (Leaves were about 3 inches high when planted out.) I haven't grown rhubarb before so I wasn't sure whether the plant died back in winter or got cut down. I noticed that a few of the bottom stalks needed removing as they'd become brown and a bit mushy. They pulled away easily which made me think that the whole plant would eventually die back to this state over the next few weeks. I needed to take a few stems to clear the path anyway; these were originally destined for the compost but my curiosity got the better of me; I hate waste so I decided to chop just the leaves into the compost. The rest was brought up to the kitchen.
Happily, I've also got Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) growing here; a few chopped leaves added when cooking rhubarb reduces the amount of sugar needed. Although it's coming on for winter, there are new soft leaves on the Cicely so I picked a small bunch of those as well. I half expected the rhubarb sticks to be inedible, tough, stringy and sour but no, not a bit of it. Fifteen minutes after getting home, stems washed, chopped, poached with a spoonful of water plus one of sugar and a handful of finely chopped cicely leaves, I had myself a delicious dessert to go with supper.
Now here's the science: All rhubarb has high levels of oxalic acid (poisonous!) in the leaves and roots, less so in the stems; as temperatures become colder, oxalic acid migrates from the leaves back into the stems, making them poisonous to eat. With Glaskin's rhubarb, the oxalic acid levels in the stems stay very low throughout the length of the year so stems can be harvested from early summer through to late autumn. Thus, it's become known as Glaskin's 'Perpetual'.
I'm not sure it was wise to pick so many stems as a certain amount are needed to build up the root for next year but there are still around half a dozen new little stalks on the plant. I'll mulch it with well-rotted horse manure over winter (leaving the crown clear). That should do it. I may even have to grow another rhubarb plant - I've seen so many yummy sounding recipes!
And a final word of caution: Never, ever, eat the leaves or root of rhubarb; they're poisonous and will make you feel most unwell!
I bought Glaskins Perpetual seeds from More Veg who supply a range of seeds in small quantities, perfect for the small space grower.