Mulching the Rhubarb

Back in February we started the annual mulching of the garden. For those of you confusing this with munching let me set you straight. Munching means to eat something with relish (not actual relish but you can if you wish) and mulching means to cover something with a thick layer. This thick layer can be bark, shredded newspaper, grass cuttings (before it flowers), well rotted manure, straw or garden compost. At Pig Row we use our own garden compost - we never produce enough of it but what we make, we use - to cover the ground, suppress weeds, retain moisture and build up soil fertility with no need to dig it in. Thankfully, we have chickens to go through it all for any pests, they even break up any big pieces in a bid to find out if anything is inside it. We don't even rake it flat, the chickens do that. A big must mulch plant is our rhubarb patches, we now have two, one in the cottage garden and the original one in the potager. All our rhubarb in this area came from my Dad, he gave me a part of a crown he was getting rid of and everything in this bed came from that crown. It is a good idea to mulch rhubarb as it promotes wonderful growth and keeps down any weeds. Just remember to lay it down thick, a good few inches and to keep it away from the crowns to stop rot. We wanted to show you how mulch impacts on growth, so let's fast forward the clock from the chickens scratching around in February.

Chickens, life on pig row, mulching

Our clock stops mid-March. Rain has been heavy this winter with late snow, and even after those few days of unseasonal warmth in February that brought out the climate change worriers and deniers (we fall in the growing worrying pile) it was soon a case of batten down the hatches here comes some ice cold snow and rain. Even this didn't stop the rhubarb from starting to come up with it's lolling tongues and rather rude raspberries to the Gods of weather. You can see here that the mulch has settled down and the coarser material in the garden compost is still rotting down. Our garden compost does fall into two spectrums, fine and ready for the greenhouse, rough and coarse for the garden borders. The latter holds more moisture and its less prone to being washed away or blown away. Let's skip forward four weeks in our gardening time machine.

Mulch, rhubarb

Mid April and the rhubarb is growing strong. The mulch now is largely hidden beneath the canopy of green leaves. The mulch is stilling doing its job and keeping down the weeds which have woken up across the garden. In beds that have gone without mulch - as I said, we never have enough - the hoe is in play but there has been no hoe here. Though a couple of crowns have sent up flowers - signs of a stressful winter for them - on the whole the rhubarb is happy. Remember to remove any flower stalks by simply snapping them at the base and laying them down to rot beneath the leaves. Rhubarb is rather a carnivorous plant when it comes to rotting matter. It is in this moment that you really see mulch come into its own. Sprint forward two weeks and you will see what I mean.

Rhubarb

Early May and the hedges have thickened up and the rhubarb has hidden the entire bed. It's now over three feet high with thick unctuous stalks and massive leaves that wouldn't have been out of place in the age of dinosaurs. We are talking Jurassic here. It becomes quickly apparent in our time travels from February we have moved from barren ground to a big crop. This wouldn't have happened without the fuel to drive us through just over two months of growth, and that fuel is garden compost; rich with nutrients taken from the waste that would in most cases end up in council compost or furnaces. It's a no brainer, mulch wins hands down.

Rhubarb, life on pig row

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