Rhubarb bursts forth

by Adam Pasco

Hidden from view by its terracotta overcoat for the past few months, it's impossible to know exactly how the rhubarb beneath is developing without peeping.

Rhubarb stems emerging from a forcing jarHidden from view by its terracotta overcoat for the past few months, it's impossible to know exactly how the rhubarb beneath is developing without peeping. Rhubarb forcing  jars are wonderful objects in their own right, and mine takes up residence covering an established clump from January.

Rhubarb forcing jars have great ornamental appeal. A traditional hand-thrown terracotta jar is a lovely object in its own right. They aren't cheap, but do last, especially if you buy one made by British potters who use good quality clay, fired at a high temperatures to ensure the terracotta is frost-proof. I bought mine from Whichford Pottery about 15 years ago for about £90, and as the price has gone up over that time, I think it was quite a good investment. It looks fabulous, and helps force masses of rhubarb.

The ornamental appeal of forcing jars could be considered secondary, as their role is really functional … to keep the plant in total darkness and encourage new stems of rhubarb to surge upwards in their search for light.

And what a wonderful sight it is during April when the first foliage lifts the lid of my forcing jar slightly, and I know the long, pink, tender stalks inside are ready to pull. Just ease your hand gently down between the stalks, grasp tightly near its base, then tug ever so gently to pull it away.

I can taste the rhubarb crumble already, or should I make rhubarb fool instead?

There are actually dozens of different varieties of rhubarb, but few are readily available in garden centres. I think mine is either 'Victoria', 'Timperley Early' or 'Champagne', or perhaps 'Stockbridge Arrow' A rhubarb connoisseur could probably tell the difference by looking at the thickness and length of stalk, by its colour, or perhaps by its taste.

Call me uncouth, but to me it's all rhubarb. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on a world of culinary experiences I have yet to discover. There's a National Plant Collection of rhubarb at the RHS Harlow Carr Gardens near Harrogate containing well over 100 cultivars, and I'm sure they have experts who could tell me what I'm missing.

Until then I must pick a few more stalks, then hunt for some new rhubarb recipes on the web.

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Gardeners' World Web User 21/05/2009 at 16:25

Flowering can sap plants of their strength, so always cut away flower stems at their base as soon as they develop. You don't want rhubarb wasting energy on forming flowers. Keep watering clumps with a liquid feed to encourage new growth. If teh clump does appear weak then it may need lifting and dividing next winter, replanting into soil enriched with compost to help reinvigorate growth.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/05/2009 at 10:53

I am new to gardening and have just stumbled across this site!! its a wealth of knowledge cheers!!

Gardeners' World Web User 22/05/2009 at 14:18

Wonder if Roseyskeff is from the north east? Everyone around me (including me)has had a megga problem in trying to keep their rhubarb from producing masses fo flower! Having said that, the blossom count on everything, especially the Hawthorns have been marvellous. Suppose it is the standard excuse.. global warming!!!

Gardeners' World Web User 22/05/2009 at 19:29

I recently got a rhubarb plant not sure how old but as lots of big leaves and small stems can anyone advice me on how to grow it and when it is ready for stems to harvest please. Iam new to this fruit un veg growing i live in the north west.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/05/2009 at 11:14

I had some rhubarb plants on the allotment that I took over 18 months ago. Is there a time when you stop picking it as it seems to be going on all the year round. By the way I have 3 gallons of rhubarb wine bubbling away as I type and I have found some stewed rhubarb with a dash of port mixed in makes a great accompanyment for roast duck.

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