Demonstration of rhubarb forcing at Chelsea Physic Garden, London | Photographer David Hawgood

Force Rhubarb for an Early Harvest

The first vegetable to be harvested in my garden is rhubarb in March. We can get into a debate about whether it’s a fruit or vegetable later. But if you can’t wait and need to get your fix of rhubarb crumble much sooner, you can force a crown or two in order to produce an early harvest.

Isolate an established crown of at least 3 years old, don’t try this with any rhubarb younger because it will make the crown too weak to get through the following years. On top of the crown in January or February place either a large bucket or dustbin – something at least 3ft high. The aim is to block any light from getting to the crown. Over the coming weeks the rhubarb will grow to produce slender, sweet sticks of rhubarb. But if you want it much sooner, place a thick layer of fresh manure around the container. The warmth from the manure will raise the temperature enough to deliver an even earlier harvest.

Whichever crown you use for forcing, do not use this crown again for forcing for the following 3 years.

Rhubarb forcing pots at Chatsworth Gardens | Photographer Roger Temple

During the Victorian period they manufacturer specially created rhubarb forcing pots for the task. These can still be purchased today but are quite expensive even if they do look spectacular in the garden.

Is Rhubarb Fruit or Vegetable?

Rhubarb is classed as a vegetable despite us using it as fruit in jams, jellies and pies. Fruit is usually a crop which carries its seed in the part that we harvest such as currants and strawberries. Rhubarb can be harvested without effecting the crown, like a vegetable.

Word of Warning

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, twist them off from the stalk and place around the base of the plant. These will feed the rhubarb crowns as they decay.

About Sean James Cameron

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