Archive for the ‘Rhubarb’ Category

Cos freckles lettuce 2

Just before Christmas, Mark from Vertical Veg  sent out a questionnaire for growing in 2013. It contained a few simple and very pertinent questions and ones which got me thinking about the many positive aspects of growing your own fruit and vegetables. Question one: why do you grow your own food?

For me, I find it joyful and incredibly rewarding to be able to pick fresh veg from our doorstep. And it’s not just picking any old veg. It’s being able to choose and grow the things that you really love to eat and that will flourish in the growing conditions that you have in your garden. In a less than sunny part of the front garden, my lettuces thrived throughout the dampest of summers and supplied delicious sweet fresh leaves, unsprayed by supermarkets (and with zero food miles) for months on end. Pea shoots came a close second, supplying a succulent alternative to lettuces and being very quick to grow (about 3 weeks from sowing to harvesting from May onwards). I also love growing food that is sometimes difficult (or impossible) to buy in the shops and I’m going to really concentrate on the less run-of-the-mill herbs next year such as Lovage, Sorrel and Sweet Cicely.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Next question. What’s your biggest challenge? Time (and space-could do with an extra half an acre at home!). Allotments are great, but they do take a feat of organisation to fit in with our busy lives. Whatever I grow on the allotment (leeks , raspberries, jerusalem artichokes….), I still love the fact that I can harvest salad leaves, strawberries and rhubarb only minutes before cooking them if I can grow them in the front or back garden (or in a pot on a windowsill or balcony). Jono from Real Men Sow has written an excellent piece on giving up his allotment and his move to growing everything (including some ornamentals) in his new garden at home.

Space in our urban environment is another constant challenge; trying to squeeze in everything I’d love to grow, but then planning becomes the key to getting the most out of our growing space.

Asparagus tips

In 2013 I’m planning for more effective successional growing, so that as soon as one spot becomes available, I’ll have the right seeds or small plants to pop right in there, and for sowing at the right time of year to provide crops throughout the seasons. Next year I’ll be attempting to fine tune my seed sowing for autumn and winter lettuces (I reckon August is the key month) and trying not to forget (in all the spring excitement) to sow seeds for some purple sprouting broccoli, as I always regret the absence of this fine vegetable come the following year. I’m planning to grow more perennial fruit, vegetables and herbs such as Rhubarb, Blackberries, Asparagus and Marjoram that will happily look after themselves (apart from the odd bit of mulching and training) and hopefully this will leave me with a bit more time for some more ‘no dig’ trials and to sow some new crops that I’ve only dreamed about so far.

During this wettest of Christmas holidays, it’s been great to have time to reflect and imagine my ideal plot, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, and one full of exciting growing experiments and successes throughout 2013, whatever or wherever your veg plot is.

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I needed a rhubarb crown for pics for my book, pronto, so I thought the best thing to do was to dig up and divide a rhubarb plant on my allotment. From what I’ve read, November through until March is the best time to divide and replant crowns, as the leaves have died back and all is dormant. In fact, this is similar to planting bare-rooted fruit canes. Having said that, Ben Asquith at Brandy Carr Nurseries (specialist Rhubarb growers) has divided his ‘Timperley Earlies’ as early as August in previous years and the crowns have grown on well since then.

I haven’t divided rhubarb plants before and wasn’t sure how much root I’d be digging up from my 3 year old plant (ordinarily you’d need to divide plants every 5 years or so).  The roots are fairly sizeable and try as you may to remove them intact, you can’t help break one or two of the longer roots as some spread out like tentacles for nearly a couple of feet.

When dividing, you’ll need to leave some buds on each new piece of root as the plant won’t regrow without root and bud combined. At first I couldn’t make these out, but if you carefully search through the top of the crown, rounded pinky/brown buds do become more evident. Bearing in mind where these buds were situated, I turned the Rhubarb root side up and then cut into the plant with a sharp spade, creating three new crowns from my original.

After replenishing the planting area with plenty of rich compost, I popped one piece of crown back into its hole and the others I planted up into pots, ensuring the crown was sitting just above the soil level. Rhubarb does grow well in pots, but make sure they’re big’uns to accommodate the chunky roots and again, fill with tons of rich compost before planting. In spring it’s a good idea to feed Rhubarb in pots with pelleted manure and give plants in the ground a good mulch around the roots with well-rotted manure in March. Be careful not to cover the crown when mulching though as this could lead to rotting.

Now divided, I’ll need to let this plant have a good year to settle in again and won’t be harvesting any stalks next summer.  Luckily though, I have a couple of other plants growing to keep me well supplied with Rhubarb Crumble.

If you don’t have  a plant to divide, but fancy growing a few of these delicious and decorative perennials, Brandy Carr Nurseries in Yorkshire are sending out crowns now. They have packs of 3 different varieties: ‘Grandad’s favourite’, ‘Raspberry Red’ and ‘Queen Victoria’ and they also have a pack of three ‘Timperley Early’ crowns’ if you want to try your hand at ‘forcing’ in years to come.

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The walled kitchen garden is like a secret garden at Wiveton Hall. I only know it’s there as a friend rented a wing in Wiveton Hall a couple of years ago, and let me in on the secret. And it’s a delight. In fact, I ‘d go as far as saying I’d die happy if I had such a garden of my own! It is open twice a year for the National Gardens Scheme, or you can just pay £2 in the farm shop to go and see it, but it’s not advertised heavily in the café, shop or on the website, so you could also easily miss it!

Once you enter, the whole feel of the garden is slightly unkempt,

and all the more charming for it.

However, the professional hand of Amanda, the gardener, is evident throughout, as she conjures up an endless supply of fresh vegetables and herbs for the Wiveton Hall Cafe, to complement fruit and veg grown in the Wiveton Hall Farm (which is also ‘Pick Your Own’ for fruit during summer).

Trained fruit trees clothe all aspects of the walled garden

and fig trees have the space to develop into large specimens (which would easily outgrow the whole of my front garden!)

I’m not sure if the garden is quite a potager as the ornamental plants surround the edibles in long herbaceous borders, rather than mixing in with the vegetables to create an overall  decorative design (have a read of Petra’s latest post on ornamental edibles at Edulis),

but this slightly ramshackle kitchen garden is a beautiful

and productive space combined.

After you’ve had your fill of flowers and veg, you can saunter over to the café for the tastiest lunch around for miles (or for tea and whole array of very tempting cakes) and gaze across the marshlands and out to sea. Delia also highly rates this eaterie and if you’re ever near the north Norfolk coast, both garden and cafe should not be missed!

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