Forcing rhubarb

Posted: Friday 24 January 2014
by Kate Bradbury

Looking out of the window yesterday, I noticed two bright red rhubarb stalks poking out above the soil.

Forcing rhubarb

Looking out of the window yesterday, I noticed two bright red rhubarb stalks poking out above the soil. I dashed into the rain, grabbed the nearest thing that would pass as a forcing jar (a bright green bucket with a broken handle), placed it over the crown and immature stalks, and ran back inside.

I didn’t think the garden could look any worse, but never mind. With any luck, this year will be the first to see me harvest my own rhubarb, which I will stew and eat with porridge, or use to make a crumble. A crown I planted in 2010 died (due, I think, to dry soil, shade and poor rhubarb husbandry on my part), so I tried again in 2012 with a crown donated by my mother-in-law.

Rhubarb is easy to grow, but to thrive it needs rich, free-draining soil incorporated with lots of organic matter. It’s always tempting to harvest one or two stalks before the plant has become established, but this can weaken it and either reduce its productivity or kill it. Flowering stems should be taken out to help the plant concentrate energy on producing roots rather than seed, and therefore increase your crop of stalks the following year.

I planted my second crown in a damper, sunnier part of the garden with deeper soil in which I emptied half the contents of my compost bin. I kept an eye on it last year and it seemed to thrive. I have so far avoided harvesting any stems, except for two which started to flower. I watered it regularly, and weeded and mulched around the crown with more home-made compost. There’s nothing more I can do for my rhubarb.

Now, after nearly 18 months, I think I can afford to force a few stalks and harvest them without damaging the plant. I hope it doesn’t die now. It can’t die now.

PS: This weekend, 25-26 January 2014, is the annual RPSB Big Garden Birdwatch. Temperatures have dipped suddenly, so I expect we'll see plenty of activity from a variety of birds in our gardens. All you need to do is spend an hour counting birds in your garden or local park, and logging your sightings with the RSPB. For more details, visit

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hilltopgardener 27/01/2014 at 11:48

I've had similar problems with Rhubarb over the past couple of years, it's already looking promising for this year though.

I've decided against forcing for now but think I will definitely have a go next year.