Archive for the ‘Rhubarb’ Category


Snowdrops and daffodils about to burst into flower out in the shady front garden. I like to think they see it as the next best thing to woodland! Out front also the rhubarb and comfrey have awoken and the new greenery bodes well for another productive year.

Out in the back garden, the garlic cloves from Fruit Hill Farm near Bantry, planted in November last, are now sprouting forth, in spite of the severe ice and snow.

Got to cut wood for tinder using dried prunings from blackcurrant bushes and apple tree which were in storage over the summer. May not get much time in garden between now and the General Election. Wildlife on the garden may well be pleased to be undisturbed for the next few weeks. Must remember to feed the birds at least.



Speaking at Sonairte

Last Sunday in spite of the snow, I sallied forth to take up an invitation to speak at the Christmas Fair in Sonairte, the National Ecology Centre in Laytown, Co Meath. Some wonderful food and crafts supported by the brave members of the public which included Ian Lumley of An Taisce and James Nix, writer on sustainability issues and broadcaster.

VOICE, the environmental organisation had a very good display there too, explaining the way our food supply depends on a huge use of fossil fuels. On average, for every 1 calorie of food we consume, we require 10 calories of fossil fuel energy. So unless we revolutionise the way we feed ourselves, the queues at petrol pumps will be overshadowed by food riots.

The fossil fuel energy embodied in our modern food production requires more debate if humanity is to survive. Talk of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources are a start whereas throw away remarks I hear such as ‘something will turn up’ are too flippant to be seriously considered.

The scale of the energy/food challenge is illustrated best by trying to imagine a store of solar energy in a very hot world. Between 360 and 286 million years ago, (the Carboniferous Period) the conditions existed to turn dead plants and animals on land and in the sea, into mineral oil, gas and coal. In the last couple of generations we have used most of the easily accessed fossil fuels which resulted from that 74 million years of solar energy.

Apart from not having any more cheap fossil fuel in years to come, the burning of this ‘ancient energy store’ is re-creating the hot atmosphere and extreme climate of the Carboniferous Period, a period too hot for humans or even for dinosaurs.

At a time when people feel let down and disempowered, growing food to save on money and fossil fuel use and growing trees to lock up the airborne carbon and provide fruit and timber, are practical measures to create a better world than the one into which we were born.

Right now the time is right to collect leaves for leaf-mould. Fill up a few plastic sacks, punch in some air holes, and store away for a year or two. After a year the leaves have broken down enough to be used as a weed free mulch on the permanent beds, where roses and asparagus grow etc. If the ground is not frozen, this is a good time to divide rhubarb crowns. When I get a chance, I’ll be pruning the apple tree and blackcurrants in this dormant season.


I ask much of my rhubarb growing it in the north facing front garden. In spite of this, the large leaves soak up enough sunlight to give a decent crop. Last February, I tried an experiment with the objective of bringing on one crown to give me an early bit of rhubarb. I put a forcing jar, (essentially an upside down bucket ) over the newly sprouted crown. This forces early growth as the young shoots strive to grow up through the dark ‘bucket’ in a quest for daylight.

All was going well and I checked progress every few days. Then I just forgot about the young anaemic looking rhubarb shoots for a while. By the time I looked again, the crown’s energy had been spent. No daylight having fuelled the growing rhubarb crown, the plant just gave up and died. Ever since then, a gap in the rhubarb patch has reminded  me of my oversight.

Now that the other rhubarb crowns have allowed their leaves to wither for winter and the crowns have gone dormant, it is safe to split the largest, healthiest crown, plant up each  half crown a few feet apart and watch them grow next Spring.

As rhubarb can be left year after year for many years in the same location, it is a good idea to manure or compost the soil with well rotted organic material, once the  hole  is dug for the crown. I’m advised to ensure the growing tip is just protruding above the ground when replacing soil around the newly planted crown.

In reality, I do not have a garden big enough to get value from a forcing  jar.  Ideally with 10 or 20 crowns, I could force one each year and leave it alone for a few years to allow it build up its strength again before forcing it once more. So I have a forcing  jar to give away if any other kitchen gardener out there wants to give it a good home. Rhubarb crowns and custard not included!

One thing about gardening is one never stops learning!

Forcing Rhubarb

2 February 2009

Rhubarb is a very easy plant to grow and makes a very refreshing dessert. This video shows you a very simple and easy way to force rhubarb. This means getting the plant to grow faster than it would normally by “tricking” it into thinking that it has not reached the surface of the soil. Trevor does this using a special forcing jar, but as you will see in the video, a bucket will do just as well.

For an interesting article on rhubarb, including some recipes check this article in The