We planted our rhubarb crowns three years ago. They were brought with us from our allotment and Drovers. They were chopped up into 7 crowns, 5 went into the bed they're in now and the other 2 are treated, or will be treated, as an ornamental plant in the front garden (but have allowed us to keep cropping over the last few years). There are no named varieties at Pig Row, we never knew their name, some of them came from Andrew's Dad's garden; meaning they are probably older than either one of us. So, here's our top tips to getting those giant rhubarb stalks.
1) Think well rotted muck. Think well rotted compost. Now add them to the bed you are going to place the crowns in. Do it on a 50:50 ratio. Make sure the bed has been cleared of weeds and keep on top of those annual weeds in the first season.
2) Feed in autumn. Feed in spring. In autumn pull off the final dying leaves and stalks and lay on the ground around the crowns to rot down, cover with compost. In early spring, add a thick layer of compost around the emerging stalks.
3) Water well in that first season but try to select a location that stays moist when it rains but is not boggy. Our bed is at the bottom of the hill, so a lot of rain water passes through this bed. We did a test last year to see if this was working, we dug two trenches. One trench (A) just up the hill from the rhubarb and one down (B) from the rhubarb. (A) Was full of rainwater after a shower, one hour later it was empty. (B) Was empty after the shower, and one hour later was still empty. This is the feeding power of rhubarb to suck up water!
4) Here's the hard bit. DO NOT harvest in the first year, take only a handful in the second year and start to harvest heavily in the third year. This is the common mistake most home growers make, they think immature crowns can be treated like mature crowns. At Pig Row, we didn't actually touch these 5 crowns until their third year. We left them for three years to grow, die back, grow and die back. That's the real trick in getting large rhubarb.
5) Don't forget the sun either. Rhubarb likes the sun, don't put somewhere dark and boggy and expect wonders.
6) When harvesting, don't take it all. Leave some stalks on each crown. We leave a third to half of the leaves on the crown.
7) Stop harvesting after the second week of July. Stop it. You may have stalks growing well, you may have a hankering for the rhubarb, you may be addicted to the stuff but think. You want your crowns to get through winter, they need energy. Leave the leaves, let that energy go back into the roots.
Grow well, harvest well, eat well. Make that your mantra, talk about rhubarb today it's more than a crumble or a pie, it's wine, cordial, fruit leather, chutney, ice cream and cordial; that is just the tip of the stalk of this versatile plant.