Gardening Tip – For the week 11th July – 17th July
Do we have to stop picking rhubarb now?
The answer in the texts books is yes, but recently things might have changed.
Rhubarb (Rheum x Hybridum) can be seen on nearly every allotment in some far flung corner.
It delights us with being one of the first available crops in April and even earlier if forced, (covered to exclude light which makes the leaves grow earlier and sweeter). It grows with such ease that it is often neglected and overrun with weeds which weakens the plants; a bit of care will encourage a better crop. The plants can stay productive for over 10 years but it is better to split and transplant the crowns every 5/6 years. Mulching the whole plot in autumn with organic matter ensures a good annual crop. If the stalks are spindly, it could be due to overcrowding in which case you should split and transplant or it could be due to the plant getting to little light. If flower stems emerge in spring remove them.
The rhubarb plant has a different life cycle clock to other plants – it begins early and then finishes early, with no new growth after mid summer. Therefore it is recommended not to remove any stalks after mid July, as these last stalks are left to build up the rhizomes reserves for next year. Text books advise us never to strip a plant at any time – always leave at least 4 sticks on the plant. However D.T. Brown claim that they have ‘removed the dormancy period’, and they have 2 new varieties to prove it . Livingstone crops during September, through to November, and Poulton Pride, they claim, will crop from spring through to late autumn for 10 months a year. I bought a few plants this year, and they are doing well but it is still too early for me to make any decision about their cropping capabilities.
The acidic taste comes from a high concentration of oxalic acid (0.5%) and was used as a laxative in years gone by, the leaves are not to be eaten as the concentration of acid is extremely high and can lead to poisoning. There was a controversy in the U.S. Courts in 1947 whether rhubarb is a fruit or a vegetable, but on the palette it makes no difference, – the proof of the pudding is in the eating; this week my wife has offered to share with you two simple rhubarb recipes, which you can try on your last harvest. Both of these recipes freeze well to savour this special taste through the winter, before my new rhubarb plants begin to crop all the year round!
Easy Rhubarb Compote
8 sticks rhubarb, ¾ cup sugar
Cut the rhubarb into 15mm slices, place into a pot without water. Put on a very low flame for ½ an hour. The rhubarb will make its own juice and will begin to soften, if you prefer not to see the actual rhubarb chunks leave cooking for longer. Now add the sugar and leave on a low flame for a further 20 minutes. It can be eaten as soon as it cools down but most people prefer it chilled from the fridge. It freezes well as well.
If you find neat rhubarb compote, too sour on its own even after adding sugar, the recipe can be varied by adding a 250g Punnet strawberries and/or 5 apples, the apples should be added at the beginning of the process, but the strawberries only at the time of adding the sugar.
Easy Rhubarb Crumble
3 cups self raising flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup oil
1 tsp vanilla sugar
6 sticks rhubarb
Additional sugar for sprinkling
Mix together all the ingredients (except the rhubarb), until it becomes a crumble (it should not have enough liquid to become a real dough). Place more than half of the dough into a 30cm. radius baking dish and press down evenly. Cut the rhubarb into 2cm. pieces and spread on top of the crumble base. Sprinkle well with sugar, and add remaining crumble dough on top. Bake in the oven on No. 4 (175 degrees) for approx. 40 minutes until golden brown.
Money saving tip:
http://www.notcutts.co.uk/ garden centres are now selling off all seeds at half price. With the expiry date on most seed packets being around 2019 it makes sense to stock up now. Although I thought that seeds are not a great percentage of a gardener’s expenditure list – but when I saw T & M cucumber mini munch priced at 4 seeds @ £3.99 – then maybe seeds at half price is something to invest in!
Enjoy your gardening week!
Next Week : Filling in the vertical gaps in your garden.