Rhubarb, rhubarb

March marks the start of the rhubarb-harvesting season providing an ingredient that is surprisingly versatile in its uses.

Rhubarb is an attractive hardy perennial with large leaves and pink, red or greenish leaf stalks that are used as a dessert, often in pies and crumbles. Stems are usually picked in spring. The plants do need quite a bit of space to grow but according to the Royal Horticultural Society (rhs.org.uk) is fairly easy to grow. Rhubarb needs an open, sunny site with moist, but free-draining soil as it hates being waterlogged in winter. Avoid frosty sites as stems are susceptible to frost. While rhubarb can be grown from seed, it is more common to plant dormant crowns between autumn and spring. Prepare the ground by digging in two bucketfuls per square metre of well-rotted manure, then spread out the roots and plant so the tip of the crown is just visible above the soil. Space plants 75-90cm apart.
 
You can start harvesting in March but do not harvest during the first year after planting as this will reduce vigour. Remove a few stems during the second year, then up to a third or half from then on, leaving some to keep the plant in active growth. To remove, hold the stalk at the base and ease it out of the ground, aiming to avoid snapping it off. Although rhubarb stems remain palatable and usable through summer, it is best not to over crop the plant and cease pulling by June, or at least only remove a few stalks after then.
 
So, it would seem that real patience is needed before you can harvest a substantial crop. If growing your own is not an option local farm shops and farmers markets will have a plentiful supply. There are several delicious recipe suggestions for rhubarb on this website. 
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