4 Mar 2020

Rhubarb, rhubarb, Let's talk

A neighbour’s rhubarb plant in mid February.  It’s going to get a lot bigger...

Growing rhubarb is easy, you say? A few years ago, I would have agreed, having grown an enormous Glaskins Perpetual from seed.  That plant has now gone, dug up with misplaced confidence that the other two Champagne rhubarb plants would more than suffice - umm, once they got going.

As if to thwart me, those two have never flourished. A handful of tantalising petite red stems appear in February ... and then, every year, it’s game over.  The stems wilt before they get big enough to make a decent compote ... or fruit fool ... or crumble. Or the crowns run to seed with, I have to admit, rather magnificent flower stalks.

I think I know what the problem is.

I trusted the advice that I’d read in some random internet space that rhubarb plants are happy to grow in light shade and so, foolishly, planted the Champagne crowns in the spaces next to my apple and cherry trees. With hindsight, the source of their struggles should have been obvious. They have to compete with the trees for water (I have mentioned the lack of a tap in this area, haven’t I?) and, I dare say, the trees are hogging any goodness that may linger in the soil. Plus, shade.

Time for a change.

At least one of these plants will be moved into the light.  A nice sunny spot in the veg patch with rich earth awaits. Or will do once I can get into the garden, weather permitting.

Meanwhile, I have permission to pick from a neighbour’s plant - the gorgeous beast in the top photo. Every year it produces a wealth of vibrantly red delicious stems, a few of which find their way into my kitchen.  I had the first poached stems of many a couple of weeks ago; they were yummy.

Pink rhubarb stems with their leaves on a bench



So, here’s little tip for poaching rhubarb.  Instead of using sugar to sweeten the stems, use a sweet jelly such as redcurrant (or other fruit).  I used some of the quince jelly I made last autumn and finished the compote with some pieces of stem ginger and some of the liquid from the jar.  It was very very good - not least for being my first harvest this year. Isn’t gardening just wonderful!


9 comments:

  1. It’s strange how some people can’t grow rhubarb and others can’t get rid of it. When we took over one of our plots their was rhubarb growing through the edge of the tarmac path

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    1. Obviously a very well established clump! Did they dig it up?

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  2. This strikes a chord. The rhubarb we "inherited" with our plot has always thrived but is a late variety. We move it from end to end every 5 years or so. Any attempt to introduce new (earlier) varieties has been met with lukewarm success/abject failure.

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    1. I wonder if late varieties are hardier plants? Hopefully the inherited rhubarb is one that you like! I visited the rhubarb fields at RHS Wisley a few years ago and was amazed at the large number of different varieties growing, some small, some huge. A lot of those had names I've never heard of so I guess we have to go with whatever is commercially available.

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  3. As you say once replanted out in the open it should do much better. xx

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    1. It will be kill or cure, for certain. Probably the former knowing my luck! xx

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  4. Good luck transplanting the rhubarb. Oh that does sound delicious!xxx

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    1. Thanks, Dina - and yes, very very delicious, all the more so for being first tastes from the garden this year! Yum! xx

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  5. I've got a rhubarb patch that's fairly shaded until the height of summer. The only real competition it has is an apple tree a few feet away. It gets plenty of water. It grows.... and grows.... and grows....

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