Kitchen garden: Rhubarb
Rhubarb is one of the few perennial vegetables.
A clump will produce tangy, juicy stems season after season with almost no effort from the gardener.
Delicious rhubarb. Photo - Jane MacGloughlin / Shutterstock
Rhubarb can be grown from seed, but takes three years before it’s ready for picking. So it’s quicker and easier to grow from crowns, which are divided parts of the plant with roots attached. Find crowns in nurseries through winter and plant in soil improved with compost to give juicier stems. Two plants of rhubarb will be enough for a family of four.
Prepare the ground as you would for flowers: with plenty of cow manure, compost, blood and bone and potash mixed through the existing soil. If you have clay soil create raised beds to improve the drainage and if you have sandy soil add a lot of organic matter so that it doesn't dry out too quickly in summer.
Plant the crowns 75 cm to 1 metre apart, with the growing point at or just below the soil surface. Water, then mulch with straw. Don't let the plants dry out in summer and at the end of the first growing season mulch with well-rotted cow manure.
To avoid rhubarb running to seed, avoid light overhead watering and instead water deeply and infrequently. Apply lots of high nitrogen fertiliser in a solid or liquid form from spring to autumn to discourage flower growth. If flowers do appear, remove them and take extra care with feeding and watering. Every four or five years dig the plant up and divide the crowns for replanting.
Delay picking stems until the second year to allow a strong crown to develop. In the second season harvest by pulling gently downwards rather than cutting the stems, and don’t over-pick or you’ll exhaust the plant.
In warmer regions choose ‘Ever Red’ and ‘Sydney Crimson’, which have particularly red stems. ‘Wandin Giant’ originates from the hills of Melbourne and has thick stems. ‘Silvan Giant’ produces stems throughout the year.
The leaves of rhubarb are toxic so never eat them or feed them to your chooks.
Where to find
Order mail order through our favourites, such as Diggers, Eden and Greenpatch Organic or look for Mr Fothergill’s at your local nursery.