Rhubarb was first grown in the UK in the late 1500s, not for the stems but for the roots which were used as a laxative.
Rhubarb likes damp, humus rich soil – hence all the old jokes about collecting manure for the rhubarb patch.
Generally rhubarb is grown from 1 year old plants or ‘crowns’, that have been divided from strong, disease-free plants. Because rhubarb needs to be divided every five or six years during winter, you can often scrounge unwanted crowns from fellow gardeners to get you rhubarb patch started.
Plant your rhubarb crowns in late autumn to early winter.
Rhubarb can be cropped the year after planting. Leaving it to settle in and gain strength in the first year will pay dividens in later years.
Remove flowers as soon as they appear so the plant doesn’t waste energy on making seeds.
How to Force Rhubarb
If you are new to growing rhubarb then you may be left scratching your head over the idea of forcing rhubarb.
Quite simply ‘forcing’ means depriving the stems of light to give paler, sweeter stems that you can harvest earlier in the season.
Simply wait until the you see the first signs of growth in the spring, then cover the plant with an upturned bucket, a large pot, or if you are posh, a rhubarb forcing jar. Make sure all light is excluded by covering any drainage holes. Make sure it is secure and won’t blow away.
You should be able to harvest the stems in about 4 weeks. You can always take a peek and see how it’s doing.
When you’ve harvested your rhubarb you need to remove the forcer. Leave about a third of the stems to allow the plant to recover.
Don’t force a crown of rhubarb two years in a row. If you want to force rhubarb, make sure you have more than one crown so you can force different crowns in alternate years.
How to Harvest Rhubarb
Gently twist and pull the stems from the base, don’t cut the stems. Remember that the leaves are poisonous.
Generally you’ll want to harvest the stems when they are 1.5cm/0.5″ and 2.5cm/1″ wide.
Don’t take more than two-thirds of the stems form any plant or you will weaken the plant.
Stop pulling stems in early July to give the plant time to recover before winter.