The Joys of organic Rhubarb
Rhubarb, one of those wonderful plants you can pop in a corner and forget about. Then every time you want rhubarb and apple pie it is there to pick and cook. Unfortunately for me after an extended dry season, followed by an excessive wet period, my rhubarb died. I was devastated as I have never had rhubarb die on me before!
After a bit of thought I realised why it died.
Firstly, rhubarb is better if divided every five years or so this one had not been touched in about 15! So first mistake.
Secondly, although they survive in dry conditions they do suffer and don’t grow well, becoming stressed and weak.
Thirdly Rhubarb hates wet feet and although it was in a raised bed the excess rain caused the weakened plant to be susceptible to rotting.
I have learnt my lesson, although Rhubarb is an undemanding plants I need to give it a little bit of care to ensure a productive and long lived plant.
So I needed to replant some rhubarb to continue the rhubarb and apple pie tradition.
The plant that had died was a division given to me by a friend many years before and I had no idea what variety it was but it did have the most wonderful ruby red stems that retained their colour during cooking and had that wonderful tartness I preferred in rhubarb. I was anxious to replace it with a plant with similar qualities and stem colour.
So off to the nursery I went. There were seedlings which were too small to indicate stem colour and as they had been grown from seed there was always the risk they would not be what I wanted. They also had bagged bare rooted corms of “Sydney crimson”, which only had very small stems, so again I did not know what the mature stem colour was going to be, so I purchased both.
I took both home and planted both in a well prepared bed – lots of composted and blood and bone incorporated into a raised a bed.
The seedling grew very quickly and become enormous, but had pale green stems with very little flavour, whereas the bare rooted plant grew slower but had the most wonderful crimson red stems and delicious tart flavour that complemented my apples beautifully.
So after a while the seedling plants were ripped out and I am now waiting a year at least to allow the bare rooted plant to establish side shoots so I can divide it and re-establish a decent patch.
I like to have at least three or four plants so I can harvest three to four stems off each plant every week.
So to establish a rhubarb plant and keep it fully productive I do the following:
- Plant them in full sun in a raised garden bed enriched with compost and blood and bone.
- They are a long lived perennial so plant in a spot that does not get disturbed often.
- In spring and autumn apply about three to four good sized handfuls of pelletised chook manure around the plant and water in well.
- Then feed them monthly with a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser such as powerfeed-you want leaf growth not flowers.
- Flowering stems are a sign that your plants are stressed so cut the flower stem off close to the base of the plant and regularly feed and water.
- If dry supplementary irrigate once a week.
- Mulch to reduce weeds and maintain soil moisture.
- Every five years divide your plants during winter.
Harvesting and cooking
Allow your plants to establish well before starting to harvest.
Once your plant has about 12 to 14 stems and leaves and the stems are thumb thickness, harvest as you need them. Leave at least three or four leaves on each plant. Harvest by pulling the oldest stems sideways to cleanly remove them from the crown, do not cut or leave lengths of stalk as these will rot and could affect the whole plant.
Once harvested cut off the leaves, remember the leaves are poisonous so do not eat them or feed them to livestock. It does make a great insecticide and you can find plenty of instructions on the net.
Wash, remove any blemished material and cut the stems into small chunks. Rhubarb needs to be cooked and combines particularly well with apple in pies and crumbles or muffins. Try spicing it up by adding either fresh or ground ginger. Yummmmm!
So if you think you might like to have a go at growing rhubarb find a spot and prepare your bed as bare-rooted plants will be coming into the nurseries and hardware shops over the next few months
If you are still not convinced to try and grow your own rhubarb check out this great info graph from the guys at organic facts, https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/rhubarb.html, on the health benefits of this amazing plant.