Act now and you can enjoy forced rhubarb, one of the gourmet treats of early spring.
The tender, pale pink stems of rhubarb grown in late winter in the dark are so delicately flavoured they’re much sought-after by chefs and foodies across Europe. Forced rhubarb costs a fortune in the shops, but it’s not difficult to force your own rhubarb crown at home each year, giving you as much as you can eat almost for free.
You’ll need an established rhubarb plant, at least two or three years old, and a rhubarb forcer. This can be a traditional terracotta model, as found in the pots and containers department here at the garden centre in Broughshane; or you can opt for a large upturned black bucket or dustbin. You can start forcing your rhubarb any time from January till late February: the earlier you start, the sooner you’ll be picking.
Start by weeding the area around the crown and removing any dead leaves or other debris. Then cover the crown with straw to keep it a few degrees warmer.
Place the rhubarb forcer over the top and if you’re using a bucket or bin, weight down with bricks to stop the wind blowing it over. The pale pink, sweet stems begin growing in the dark right away and are ready about eight weeks after covering.
Once you’ve forced a rhubarb crown, remove the bucket and let it grow on normally. Don’t pick the plant again for another full season to let it recover. If you want to enjoy forced rhubarb every year, just grow two plants and alternate between them: now is a great time to plant new crowns and you’ll find some fine varieties right here at the garden centre, so pop in this week and we’ll be happy to help you choose.