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Rhubarb

One of the staples in our Food forest is the Rhubarb plant which grows back year after year. They are quite easy to grow, loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium and are high in fibre.

The stalk of the rhubarb can be either red or green and it looks a little like celery. Stems are just pulled off and Rhubarb is ready to harvest in spring and early summer when it’s nice and firm with a lovely shiny stalk. Two to three plants are generally enough for a family of four. Due to it being a perennial and coming back year after year make sure where you plant it is where you intend for it to stay, having said that you can move it when you divide the plant into sets.

Every 3-4 years after the plant has become dormant and the leaves have died down in winter months, the plant can be divided with a spade. The roots are yellow, fleshy, quite large and soft and very easily separated (a great gift for friends). New sets are planted 90cm apart with the main bud showing just above the surface of the soil. When replanting the crown should not be buried as it can easily rot when wet. It’s best not to harvest the plant during the first year of growing to enable it to become well established.

Rhubarb likes to be well nourished with regular feeds of cow and chicken manure in spring and autumn to help it hold moisture in the soil. It likes full sun and should be mulched well in summer and manure or compost should be added to the soil after planting. It can also be fertilized in spring with blood and bone and a sprinkling of potash.

The plant prefers a temperate climate and needs a couple of good frosts in winter. Don’t let it go to seed and if any stems go to flower cut them off as the plant will put all of its energy into the seed and not the stem. We left one to go to seed just to see what happens, however will not try to grow them from seed as it is apparently quite difficult and just as easy to divide the plant.

The leaves and roots of the rhubarb plant are poisonous (can lead to kidney damage) for both humans and animals so don’t eat them or feed them to the chooks or bunnies.

The stems are often stewed to make jam or relish. Jack and Brett like to eat them raw off the plant and we stewed some this morning with apple to have on our porridge. Another family favourite is rhubarb and apples crumble. Stephanie Alexander has a wonderful recipe for a rhubarb and almond crumble tart and we also love this almond and rhubarb cake featured on Floating kitchen. Lastly, PIP Australian permaculture magazine also featured a pink fizzy rhubarb champagne which sounds delicious. The recipe options are endless all year round.