12 Nov 2013

Sticks of potential..

Glaskins Perpetual

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.


Just one rhubarb plant ...

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.

33 comments:

  1. I was very interested to hear about your perpetual rhubarb. And well done growing it from seed, I'm impressed! My rhubarb died right back in mid-summer, it's very overgrown with long grass. It may need to come out and the whole area be weeded and replanted I think. It just wasn't a priority last year.

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    1. Thanks, CJ - I'm always most proud of the plants I grow from seed! Be careful if moving your rhubarb, it's not supposed to like it! Sounds like you're right in that the long grass did your rhubarb in; I'd clear it away, mulch around the rhubarb crown and hope for the best! Good luck, hope it works! (And weeding is such a tedious job!) C xx

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    2. On the moving front, when I had the allotment I was offered a mature rhubarb plant by a fellow plot holder. It was huge, it took three of us to move it - and we broke a spade - but mulched wll with muck it thrived and we picked loads even that first year (we moved it in early April).

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    3. Great advice! Thanks Janet! It's always really good to know how other gardeners have fared with various 'projects'. I've been thinking of a small redesign of the veg patch and, of course, the rhubarb is in the way. It may have to be moved in which case I shall a) get a sharp spade b) do it sooner rather than later and c) have a big bag of mulch to hand!!

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  2. Our rhubarb does back as does all that growing in fields around us. Next year you will notice fat red bulges fro which new leaves emerge. By the way we have had two pineapple sage plants in different years and both were killed off over winter - they aren't very hardy.

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    1. Ah great, I was hoping I'd get advice from other rhubarb growers! Sounds like you're in the middle of the famous Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle? The best growing conditions in the country? Thanks for the tip about pineapple sage - I was thinking I'd cut mine back (as it seems to be a vigorous grower) and then cover it. I did this was French tarragon last winter, putting a clear plastic toybox over the plant and it survived the snow and prolonged winter.

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    2. We are indeed, Caro. I have an article about it in my web page here
      http://ossettweather.com/glallotments.co.uk/rhubarbtriangle.html

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    3. Sue, as you'll see from my comment above, you're not alone in letting the odd typo slip through!! Thanks for the link to your article, I'm popping over to read it now. I lived between York and Leeds in my teenage years (Church Fenton, near Tadcaster) and loved it.

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    4. Both Martyn and I were born in Hazlewood Castle near Tadcaster

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    5. Ah, small world! I remember it so well and yet when I look on Google photo maps it all looks so different! My parents would remember Taddy for the ale - I remember it for the great fish and chips we used to get there!

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  3. Very interesting Caro...had no idea about the oxalic acid migration! My rhubarb has all died down for the season but I'm already looking forward to seeing it pop up again next spring :)

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    1. I have to admit, neither did I, Tanya! I had a feeling that I'd bought the seeds for a reason, i.e. duration of harvest, and in looking up the info on the seeds, found the info on oxalic acid. Not sure I would have been so hasty to eat the stems if I'd known before but, hey, I'm still here so no poisoned stems!

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  4. Fantastic that you grew it from seed and that it grew so well, I have always bought mine as plants! We have 3 crowns which provide stalks at different times so it prolongs the season, but your "perpetual" would seem to do that all by itself - wonderful! I have just started to grow Sweet Cicily to add to rhubarb and other dishes, also a bit of grated ginger in with the rhubarb makes a lovely crumble.

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    1. Pauline, I just assume that seeds will want to grow so give it a go whereas the crowns that I've seen always look a bit hit and miss! I think you'll enjoy have Sweet Cicely in your garden. It's a lovely looking plant and has delicious aniseed flavoured green seed pods as well as tasty leaves. I like the sound of rhubarb and ginger crumble! I've also found a recipe for rhubarb and ginger chutney ... yum!

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  5. I was about to go and check mine, but it sounds as though only Perpetual is safe to eat at this time of year?
    Well done on getting such a big plant. I have one growing where I want to put the next raised bed. I'm going to have to destroy it somehow because I don't want it coming up in the middle of my beans! I'll plant another somewhere where it can remain undisturbed.

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    1. Have you had a frost yet, Rusty? We're due one tonight and I think that's what triggers the movement of oxalic acid - makes sense really, a bit like bulbs moving their energy from the leaves back into the bulbs at the end of the season. Can you take a clump off your rhubarb for replanting before destroying the motherlode? I've a feeling I may have the same problem soon ... !

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    2. No frost yet, but tonight will come perilously close I think.
      It's a good idea to look for a clump I can take off. We once tried to remove one from an area that was to become a lawn. It took several years of mowing before it finally gave in!

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    3. Crikey! Good to know that they're so hardy but I'll think very seriously about whether my rhubarb is in the right place now! We're definitely having a frost - I've just looked out of the window before bedtime and can see the car roofs are all frosty! It will be interesting to see how this affects the plants...

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  6. In Indonesia, we only use rhubarbs root for pharmacy and tasting traditional cigarette. The leaves usually just for compost.

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    1. Having previously only read of the poisons in the leaves and roots, I had to google search for other uses and it seems rhubarb root is very useful both medically and as a vegetable dye, similar in colour to walnuts. So thank you, Endah, you've broadened my knowledge of this plant!

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  7. And there was me, so sure that this would be about planting bare-rooted trees!! I am amazed that you got such a huge plant growing it from seed so recently, makes me wonder why on earth I bothered to buy root cuttings this Spring! My rhubarb has bulked out nicely, but I have been so good, not picking this year. We've not had a cold snap yet, I wonder whether the remaining stalks would be safe to eat... Nah... Shan't risk either the plant or the stomach ache!!

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    1. Sorry, Janet, I've misled you! It's hard to resist picking in the first year, rhubarb is so tasty and so expensive in the shops! I've read that you'd have to eat 5kg of the leaves in order to be fatally poisoned but I think you're wise to leave well alone until next spring. We're forecast a frost tonight (Tuesday) so it will soon be all over in the garden until next year once the temperatures drop.

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  8. That's a treat, having fresh rhubarb at this time of year. I'm hoping that I'll be able to take some stems from my rhubarb plant for the first time next year, something to look forward to.

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    1. Oh yes, it was, Jo! So delicious, especially for being unexpected! I must check back on your blog to see which variety you're growing - I quite fancy another rhubarb plant, perhaps Victoria for its pink stems and sweet stalks!

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  9. There's no problem moving rhubarb. Do it now to settle in before the winter. Put plenty of compost or horse manure in the hole and over the top when you've planted it. Don't pick any, or very many, stems the next year and it'll be fine. Leaves can be added to the compost heap. Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks for this excellent advice, Flighty - I wonder how deep the roots will be after one year's growth? I may well try moving this plant as it's grown so large but I'm not sure I have the patience to wait another year for home-grown rhubarb!

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  10. How lucky are you getting to eat rhubarb at this time of the year? Mine died back a month ago, which is a shame as I really fancy eating some now.xxxx

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    1. Very lucky, Snowbird! And I've frozen a bag of rhubarb chunks for another tasty treat later in the winter! I'm not sure Sweet Cicely will freeze though and I love the slight hint of aniseed from the leaves. I'm wondering what variety you grow - I quite fancy growing another rhubarb but one that will crop earlier.

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  11. Interesting to read of a rhubarb that you can eat at this time of year Caro. It certainly has made good growth from seed in such a relatively short period of time. I inherited my clumps with the allotment but they are in dire need of replacement. Off to investigate 'Gaskin's Perpetual' forthwith :)

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    1. This could be a golden opportunity then, Anna. Google Glaskins Perpetual and read what Hillier's nursery has to say about it ... it's a glowing report to say the least! I'm wishing now that I could remember where I bought the seeds from, they were obviously very good seeds!

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  12. Hi Caro. I've never heard of a perpetual rhubarb before or would have never given growing it from seed any thought. I don't think picking your stems will do any harm. In my experience rhubarb is as tough as old boots. I have a plot neighbour who has spent several years trying to kill hers off ;) My rhubarb looks a mess at the moment - a brown, sludgy mess. I just leave the leaves to rot down on the ground so all the goodness goes back into the soil. I think oxalic acid can be a problem for people with kidney and liver problems so it's best to go easy on rhubarb, spinach and sorrel if this is the case. I read somewhere that 90g of rhubarb was a suitable portion any more and its laxative properties might be a problem!!!! ;) Have fun eating your home grown rhubarb and have a lovely weekend.

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    1. I'm a great one for reading the seed catalogues and visualising multitudes of delicious plants growing in my veg patch. I obviously came across rhubarb seeds and thought it seemed like a good idea! A week on from the tidy up, the plant has thrown up new (tasty looking) stems - not surprising really as I also seem to have strawberries and raspberries still growing! I should also add that I ate my rhubarb compote and suffered no consequences! Rhubarb in November? Yum! I may have to grow a few more of these plants for sale ... !

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Caro x

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