A frosty morning. Freezing fog hung low among the branches, and all was silent save the shrill calls of small birds clattering about in the willows behind my plot.
Too cold to dig, too early to sow, and apple trees slippery with ice so I couldn’t climb up and prune them. What to do? As I watched a robin pick through the mulch in just about the only tidy part of my allotment, inspiration came in an unexpected flash – rhubarb!
Fat yellowish buds poking through the soil are the only sign of the rhubarb plant at this time of year. Normally you wait until the plant has started growing in springtime before you can harvest rhubarb stalks, but there’s a cheat…
It’s called ‘forcing’. Basically, by excluding light (and providing a protected environment), you encourage the plant to give you a crop that’s not only earlier, it’s sweeter and prettier too.
How to force rhubarb
You can buy posh ‘rhubarb forcers’ made of terracotta, but to be honest, unless you’ve got a spare sixty quid, why bother. All you need is a deep bucket or plant container, some straw and a brick.
Lightly fill your chosen bucket/container with straw and place it over the rhubarb crowns, weighing it down with a brick to stop it blowing away in high winds. If you’re not sure where to put the buckets in your rhubarb patch, hunt around under the remains of last year’s growth for clusters of greeny-yellow buds.
The plant will then go into overdrive, throwing out stalk after stalk of the most beautiful vibrant pink, sweetest and most tender rhubarb you’ve ever tasted. A real treat for those dark days at the end of February or in March when spring seems slow to start and you’re just itching to get going in the garden. Bon appetit!