Rhubarb is a perenial plant which grows back from the root crowns every spring. The large leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous, but the celery like stems are wonderfully tart and tangy. Children like to eat them fresh right out of the garden, but nearly everyone likes it used as a fruit in sweet deserts – pies, crumbles, or just stewed with sugar. My Mom (a marvelous cook of course – thanks Mom!) used to make it into a pie with strawberries. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Don’t worry too much about those poisonous leaves – they apparently taste so nasty that there is not much danger of anyone eating them anyway.
Here in TN I can barely grow rhubarb – although last year was so cool and rainy that it did pretty well. It really does much better farther north where the weather is normally cooler and wetter. When I was a kid we lived in Indiana for a few years, and the back yard of the old house we lived in had a marvelous big bed of rhubarb that just took care of itself.
Forcing rhubarb as in the first picture above is something that I had never heard of until recently, and I’ve never tried it yet – but I will. Apparently forcing rhubarb is a widespread practice in England – I ran across it on a UK gardening blog that I subscribe to. I’m afraid that the English are much more sophisticated gardeners on average than most Americans are – they seem to use many techniques that we don’t. We should try to do better I suppose.
Anyway, from what I can glean forcing rhubarb is very simple to accomplish – as soon as growth is seen (maybe even before) cover the crown of a well established plant with a large, rather tall container such as a bucket or trash can. Optionally insulate around the “forcer” with straw or some other mulch to warm the micro-climate and encourage growth. In about 8 weeks you should have an early crop of tender juicy tangy rhubarb.
- Don’t try to do this until you have a well established healthy plant to work with – certainly not the first year!
- Don’t force the same plant two years in a row as the process stresses the plant by putting most of the energy into growing the forced stems instead of keeping the rest of the plant strong.