Anyway today's post is because so many people have said to me at events that they have rhubarb growing - and often that is followed by the comment that it seems very temperamental.
I think one of the reasons for this comment is the fact that everything you read about rhubarb talks about how it is indestructible and very easy to grow so if it doesn't do well for you then you can't understand it.
So I thought I would share a few basic tips about how I get the best out of my rhubarb (and I currently have about 100 plants/crowns growing which provide me with a lot of rhubarb - so while not an expert I am at least a knowledgeable amateur)
First when you are buying a plant if you see it it in a nursery or garden centre take a look at the pot and see if there are lots of healthy buds on the plant. What you want is a piece of "crown" (the name given to the rhubarb plant) with lots of stalks emerging. Don't just lift the plant with long lanky stalks but look at the base and if you see lots of new growth like in the picture below this is a good sign.
The other thing about rhubarb is that (contrary to what a lot of people seem to think) it is not a plant to dump in that shady bit of the garden where nothing else grows! It needs sun - in my garden two of my rhubarb beds are shaded slightly by the polytunnel and they never produce as much as the three beds which are in full sun!
Finally don't choose the boggy bit of the garden where the soil is waterlogged if you can avoid it - rhubarb hates that.
When I plant my rhubarb I dig a hole about twice as wide as the pot the rhubarb came in - I am lucky in that I make my own compost and I dig in two or three good shovelfuls of that mixing it in well. If you don't have access to your own compost mix in some shop bought compost or add some organic fertiliser to the hole and mix well.
Now before you take the plant out of the pot check by sitting the pot in the hole that when you plant the rhubarb the top of the crown with the emerging buds will sit slightly above the surface of the soil. You don't want to put the crown in too deep and have those sitting under the level of the soil or worse still in a dip where the water will run into the hole and rot the crown.
Once you have your rhubarb planted try to resist the urge to pick any stalks in that first year of growth - basically the plant needs to put its energy into getting its roots down and established rather than constantly trying to grow stalks.
When I do come to pick in the next year I tend to put my hand on the crown to hold it and not disturb it while I pull the stalk with my other hand - a little bit of a twist and it should come away easily. Don't cut stems as the piece you leave behind is just an invitation for slugs and also rot can set in which can damage your plant.
Finally at the end of the growing season spread some well rotted compost, or manure if you can get it, on the soil around the crown - don't put it over the top - and let the worms do the work over the winter of taking it down into the soil. At the beginning of the next season remove any weeds and as the stalks grow they will shade out the light preventing much further weed growth.
I hope these few tips help you to get the best out of your rhubarb or even encourage you to have a go at growing it - there is nothing quite so nice as a rhubarb crumble with a big dollop of home made custard!