Hands up all who have fond childhood memories of munching on a crunchy stalk of rhubarb dipped in sugar or of course, the first prize – freshly baked rhubarb pie with custard! Many old favourites, like Rhubarb and Rue, are making comebacks to the veggie garden, and this easy-to-grow perennial is one of them.
Rhubarb, or Rheum rhabarbarum, is a cool season, herbaceous perennial grown for its crispy pink-red stalks. The best stem colour is produced at a temperature of 10°C or less. The plants can go dormant during winter, but will pop up again in spring to provide you with attractive lush foliage and a fresh supply of stalks. A healthy plant will keep growing for at least 10 years!
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but it’s not easy and the plant takes a long time to mature. The easiest and quickest way is to use the young plants available in the herb section at Lifestyle Home Garden. The best time to plant your rhubarb plants is from late autumn to early spring.
Prepare a space for your plants in a full sun or semi-shade position by removing all weeds, stones and large clots and digging in generous amounts of compost. Ensure that the soil is well-drained – rhubarb doesn’t enjoy being waterlogged as this can cause crown rot. Rhubarb needs a permanent space in the garden and grows to about 90cm high and wide, so keep that in mind when you allocate space for it.
Plant your rhubarb plants 90cm apart with a distance of 90cm between rows. Add a handful of bone meal or worm castings to the plant hole and water well after planting. Plant the roots about 6cm below soil level and firm down. Apply a layer of mulch around the plants and water well.
Rhubarb can be grown in containers but it does however have a large root system, therefore pots or planter boxes have to be deep and wide.
Rhubarb plants can be lifted and divided after about 5 years and preferably during dormancy in winter.
Take care not to disturb the root system of your rhubarb plants when interplanting.
GOOD COMPANIONS: Brassicas, beans, strawberries, garlic, onions, horseradish and Aquilegia.
BAD COMPANIONS: Sunflowers.
Click |HERE| to read more about Companion Planting.
Rhubarb needs regular watering, especially during warm, dry spells. Ensure that the plants stay moist, but not waterlogged. Maintain the mulch layer to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.
Rhubarbs are heavy feeders and need a fortnightly application of an organic, water-soluble fertilizer to encourage strong and abundant stalk formation. Apply a thick layer of compost as mulch around the plants every year during dormancy.
Flowering stems should be removed and discarded throughout the growing season.
Rhubarb needs a year to establish itself and should only be harvested lightly during this first season. When harvesting stalks for eating, they should be pulled off the plant gently in a downwards and outwards motion. Cutting the stalks will leave a stub which can attract fungus and pests. Remember to always remove the leaves before you use your harvest.
Start harvesting from the outside inwards and harvest the thickest (about 20mm) and healthiest stalks first. Leave the rest to mature for harvesting later. Never harvest more than a third of the stalks per plant. Stop harvesting in autumn or when stalks become thin and allow the plant to grow and build up resources for the following season.
Although rhubarb is grown as a vegetable, it is used as a fruit. Only the stalks of rhubarb should be eaten as the leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous to people , animals and poultry. The stalks are very high in vitamins A and C and iron. They can either be cooked or baked in a pie or crumble with ginger, cinnamon and apples. Yummm!
Although poisonous to eat, rhubarb leaves can be put to good use as an insecticide spray against caterpillars, aphids and whitefly. Boil chopped leaves in water at a 1:10 ratio for 30 minutes. Add about 30g of soap flakes, cool down and strain into a spray bottle. Use as soon as possible.
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