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Homeschool Garden Club - Rhubarb

Interestingly this is either a "love it" or "hate it" fruit in the Orchard Training Garden Club. What can I say – I am firmly in the "love it" camp. Rhubarb is an undemanding perennial that’s easy to grow and fantastically hardy. In fact, it actually needs a cold snap in order to produce the best crops.

If you are new to gardening or the Garden Club this might just be one of the best plants to start with. A healthy plant will remain productive for at least 10 years - so it makes an excellent pocket money investment. Like most crops, you can grow rhubarb from seed, we recommend starting off with the much easier to plant crowns or budded pieces. If you are lucky, one of your group may be looking to divide theirs and you can have a bit for free. They establish well, making them ideal for beginners.

However, during the first year, you’ll need to resist the temptation to harvest the stems. But from the second year, you can harvest your rhubarb from April to June.

Which variety to choose

There are lots of different varieties of rhubarb to choose from. Here are some of our Orchard Training Garden Club and Cookery Club favourites – all of which are suitable for planting in either the autumn or in the spring.

  • Victoria - these have a greenish- pinkish stem but are sweet and sharp. once they are happy in the garden they will produce well every year.

  • Timperley Early - which pops up early and is one of the earliest to pick

When to plant rhubarb

Now is a good time to plant a rhubarb crown now while the soil is still warm. You can find the in the garden centres now. But before you spend you pocket money - do ask around the Garden Club first.

If you’ve grown your rhubarb in a pot, this can be planted out at any time of the year as long as the soil is not frozen, waterlogged or it is too dry.

Where to grow rhubarb?

These are easy plants, but they do best in a sunny position with moist but not water logged, well-drained but not dry soil. Think carefully about where you are going to put it because it does not like to be moved around and it will be there for the next 10 years.

How to plant rhubarb?

Once you have decided where it is going make sure the area is free from weeds. give the area a good dig over and put in some well rotted manure. a number of the study buddies live on farms, stables or have access to horses - don't spend out on manure if you can pick it up for free. Digg it well in and spread it around. Dig a hole in the middle and plant the crown in with the pink buds just visible at the soil level.

Planting in a pot you need to remember that rhubarb has a big root system so the need a big pot. The smallest you should use is 40 litres - try and get bigger.

What to do next?

Rhubarb can be left alone for most of the first year, apart from making sure it is watered in very dry spells - just ignore it and let it do its thing. Then you can do the following each year.

In the spring, remove any rhubarb flower spikes as these will take away from the stalks that we need. Feed the area with more well rotted manure. From the second year you can pick the stalks.

During the summer make sure you water it when there are long periods of not rain and if the weather gets too hot for too long. if your rhubarb is in a pot you will need to keep a good eye on this so put the pot where you pass regularly. Just keep an eye on any weeds and pull any out as you pass. Look them over for slugs and snails and deal with them when you find them.

In the autumn, the rhubarb will die back naturally and you can simple clear up the area. Add more well rotted manure around the crowns but not over the tips of the crowns.

After about 5 years, you can dig the main crown up and split it in to 3 or 4 pieces. Each bit needs a healthy looking bud. Now is the time to offer these out to any Homeschool Gardeners who are looking for a piece. If you have had lots of free manure offer them some rhubarb first. This is best done during the winter. I tend to it during the Christmas holidays. When you split the crown like this it will help to ensure it remains productive.

How to harvest rhubarb?

I can't say this enough - the first year don't pick it. Your plant needs to re-establish, it doesn't like being moved.

From the second year you can pick. You can pick when they are the length of our school rulers we use in maths. grab the base of the stalk and pull with a clean tug and a twist so that it comes away cleanly. Don't be greedy pick a few stalks form each plant at a time. On the longest day of the year stop picking to allow the rhubarb time to build up its reserves for the next years pickings. if you get a good crop - rhubarb freezes really well. Speak to the Orchard Training Cookery Club for some recipes.

How to cook rhubarb?

We only eat the stalk - THE LEAVES ARE POISONOUS.

When you are picking cut the leaves off and pot them into the compost bin on the way to the kitchen. Speak to the Orchard Training Cookery Club for some recipes.


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