RHUBARB

Planting to harvest time: The plants crop in the second year onwards.

Yield: Four plants are sufficient for the average family.

Aspect: Open and sunny.

Climate preferred: Cool temperate.

Soil: Ordinary soil which has been enriched with compost.

Planting and cultivation

Rhubarb is not really fruit at all, but a vegetable stalk. Yet no one can argue about its usefulness. It is in season from early spring until the end of midsummer, and in this respect it is more than a match for most fruits. The crop is produced from rootstocks, or crowns, which are best planted in late winter or early spring. The plants are set 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) apart in soil which has been well prepared by the addition of compost. The first season you should concentrate in building up the strength of the plants. So no stalks should be pulled and plenty of water should be given in dry spells. In late mid-spring surround the rhubarb with a thick layer of well-rotted compost and at the end of midsummer give the plants an annual feed of general fertilizer at the rate of 135 gm per sq m (4oz per sq yd). Never allow flowers to form. Any which do appear should be snapped off when first seen.

Harvesting

Rhubarb should be pulled by grasping the stems low down. Do not snap stems away from the crown as the pieces left behind rot and cause damage to the rootstock. Stop pulling stems in late midsummer to allow the plants to build up their strength for the following season.

Pruning

An established rhubarb bed will give good results for up to eight years before it needs major attention. When the annual harvest is of poorer quality, the bed can be revitalized in winter by lifting the roots in winter, dividing them with a spade and replanting the best pieces.

Pests and diseases

Crown rot (shoots are thin and discoloured; rootstock develops a blackish cavity: lift and burn as there is no cure.

(1) Rhubarb crowns should be planted 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) apart in late winter or early spring so that the new shoots are just showing above the soil.

(2) Rhubarb thrives in moist soil which is rich in organic matter. So in mid-spring every year surround the plants with a layer of well-rotted compost up to 15 cm (6 in) thick. This will have the effect of helping the plants to produce lots of succulent stems.

(3) Once the annual harvest is of inferior quality, the rhubarb bed can be revitalized in winter by lifting the roots and dividing them. Simply chop each crown with a spade into several pieces. Replant the outer newer parts and discard the worn-out woody centre.

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