Food & Entertaining - In Season

How to force rhubarb

Marjorie Mason

Create a warm micro-climate to hurry along the first rhubarb stems of the season

As a child growing up on a market garden farm we had a long winter of root vegetables on the table. With the warming days of spring, my tastebuds longed for the first sweet stalks of rhubarb from the garden, so I happily set about collecting all the buckets and baskets I could find to use as cloches for the emerging plants.

Shelter tender shoots
By covering the rhubarb with upturned buckets (we didn’t have fancy clay cloches like Victorian kitchen gardens—just about anything that excluded light from the new clumps would suffice) a micro-climate was formed to provide a dark, warm place for emerging stalks to burst through the soil.

In a couple of weeks the buckets were removed and the soft, bright pink, incredibly sweet stalks were harvested and sent to market (the stalks, actually leaf petioles, are edible, but the leaves contain oxalic acid and are poisonous).

After the initial crop, the buckets were left off so the plants could produce more leaves, and grow and strengthen for a new crop of fresh tender stalks next spring.

Where to plant
Every garden should have rhubarb, and it’s possible since it’s hardy to Zone 3; even though they get large, they can be tucked at the back of a sunny flower border in rich, evenly moist soil where they will happily grow along with ornamentals. Occasional stalks can be harvested throughout the season, although they may pale in comparison to that first sweet crop.

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