Allotment: perennial crops

We can’t take any credit for this, it was planted long before we arrived but we’re going to have the pleasure of harvesting it, that’s for sure! If we’d been around in the autumn, I would have taken greater care of our rhubarb crown, although it seems to have coped pretty well without me.

What I would have done is cut it back a little and mulched the crown with about four inches of compost to feed the roots and also protect the first growth from any frost in the months ahead. With only one crown I would also have forced it which makes the stems more tender (less of those fibrous strings) and sweeter, as well as bringing it on a bit earlier in the season. With several crowns I’d force half and leave the others, so as to space out the crop a bit.

To force rhubarb I usually use a big old bucket, often one with some holes about its person. Those holes need to be patched with a bit of tape and folded newspaper. Just chuck the container on top of the crown as soon as the first crinkled new leaves appear and it will provide both a micro-climate (removing the wind-chill as well as protecting from frost) and remove light which blanches the stems, making them more tender. This brings on the rhubarb so its ready to harvest between three and six weeks before unforced rhubarb. It does also make the stems a bit narrower in diameter than unforced rhubarb which is why I like to grow both. When the crown starts to lift the bucket I take it off and harvest the stems, leaving that crown to recover in the sun and feed itself for the following year when I’ll leave that one unforced and force all the ones that were un-bucketed in the previous year.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, June 26, 2008


Blogger Paul and Melanie said...

Out rhubard was somthing of a disapointment this year. Between the crown in the garden at home and the two on the allotment we've only managed about enough for one crumble! :(

Think I'll be putting lots of manure on them all this autumn (is that the best time?) and hoping for more luck next year.

June 27, 2008 at 5:37 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Yes, autumn is the best time - make sure your manure is ripe or 'mature' as people say, as when its too fresh the chemical elements aren't broken down and can scorch the leaves of plants. Don't put it on the plant, but around it in a circle.

Rhubarb do like quite a lot of water in summer, especially if they are not well-established. They are totally intolerant of root disturbance too, so if you've been digging nearby, that may have set them back. They do well if you give them a sprinkle of granular fertilizer around February which will degrade slowly into the soil as the plant starts its new growth.

A good crown should last you ten years but might produce nothing in the first couple of years as its roots settle.

June 29, 2008 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Matron said...

When should I stop picking the rhubarb? I've had a fantastic crop this year and I don't want to stress the plant by taking too many sticks. I've also heard that it gets tough or more acid as the Summer progresses.

June 30, 2008 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger The Allotment Blogger said...

Hi Matron - stop around now! The old wives (who always knew best) say rhubarb should not be harvested after July (assuming you start in April, in a late summer you can push back a couple of weeks because you may not have started harvesting until May). And you're absolutely right, once it starts to get tough and fibrous, that's when to stop harvesting, regardless of the date. If you haven't harvested a crown for some reason, take all but four or five stems out so that it's encouraged to grow next year anyway, and if they are tough, peel them with a veg peeler and when they are cooked, give them a bit of a whizz in the blender then use them as a puree.

You should leave around four stalks on every plant and give it a nice mulch once you let it rest. As I said in the blog, never force a plant two years running, or it will become weak.

July 1, 2008 at 4:47 AM  

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