Grow it Yourself: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of the few long term plants in the vegetable garden. A clump can last anything up to 10 years, though if you are a rhubarb fan, you are more likely to be renewing your patch more regularly than that to ensure uninterrupted supply. Think of it like a clumping perennial – it grows from a crown below the surface of the ground and makes its own offshoots. Like most perennials, it likes to be planted in ground that has been well dug over with plenty of humus or compost added in. Beyond that, it does not want wet feet in winter (which will kill it) and it is fine in half to full sun. Just feed it or mulch with compost once a year – spring is a good time. An established plant is going to take anything up to a round metre is space (that is, as opposed to a square metre).

Usually the pinker the stem, the nicer they are to eat but apparently there are varieties that stay green so you may be waiting forever with them. The leaves and roots are poisonous because they contain oxalic acid so you do not want to eat them or to eat the closest stem parts. However it is an urban myth that it is not safe to put them in the compost heap. I have yet to meet anyone who eats their compost and the natural toxins break down in the composting process.

It is easy to grow rhubarb but it is only worth the effort if you like its taste and are prepared to cook with it. I like to add a little gelatine to my stewed rhubarb, being a jelly fan. Adding a little grated fresh ginger while cooking takes it up more than one notch and I found the children ate it quite happily when it was cooked with some sago added (check out Alison Holst’s recipes).

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

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