Rhubarb is a plant that enjoys summer-like weather. Sadly this weather typically doesn’t last for long in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Forcing rhubarb is a way to “trick” your rhubarb plants into fruiting earlier in the year, extending your harvesting season.
Just as importantly forced rhubarb tends to have a sweeter flavor, and can be less stringy, making it an even more welcome culinary treat.
While forcing rhubarb isn’t difficult, there are some crucial steps you need to understand to get the very best results…
How Forcing Rhubarb Works
Rhubarb can grow quite slowly in spring as it basks in the warm sunshine. When you force rhubarb you’re taking away that cherished sunlight, keeping the plant in complete darkness.
Your rhubarb plant, however, is desperate for that all-import sunlight. This encourages your plants to sprout quickly as they search for any trace of light. It grows rapidly in its search, which means you end up with longer stems and a larger harvest.
Supplies You Need
To force your own rhubarb you’ll need a large container and some warm insulation. Here’s what you need to bare in mind to kick-start your rhubarb into growth…
Containers for Forcing Rhubarb
All sorts of containers can be effectively used to force rhubarb. The two most important considerations are that your chosen container effectively blocks out the light, and that it is suitably sized to not only fully cover your plant but also to allow room for growth. Examples can include large buckets or an old plastic plant container.
If you want a more stylish covering then special rhubarb forcer pots are commonly available. These pots are typically made from terracotta, and feature decorative patterns to add a hint of style to your vegetable patch.
Warm Insulation for Rhubarb
While insulation isn’t essential in warmer parts of the country, in many cases adding some insulation can encourage faster growth, leading to more successful results.
Some simple examples of effective insulation can include straw (the traditional option) or more modern alternatives like fabric (burlap). For a simpler option, some people opt to use well-rotted manure or compost, which not only produces warmth as it rots, but also releases all-important nutrients into the soil.
How to Force Rhubarb
After gathering your supplies, you can start to work on forcing your rhubarb crop. There are just three steps for success..
Put the Insulation Around Your Plant’s Crown
The first step to forcing rhubarb is to put some insulation around the crown. This should be placed loosely to create a warm and cozy ring around the growing rhubarb crown.
Put the Container Over the Plant
With your insulation in place, next place the container over it. Make sure the container is secure around the plant so wind or animals don’t knock it over. Also, ensure be careful to ensure that no light can make its way into the container. If necessary consider gently pressing the container into the earth to create a decent seal against spring sunlight.
This step is probably the hardest. But if there’s one thing gardening can teach us it’s that good (and delicious) things come to those who wait. You’ll want to wait a few weeks before checking on your rhubarb which, when you do, should have sprouted up significantly.
Harvesting Forced Rhubarb
As your rhubarb plants start to touch the sides of their container it is a good idea to get harvesting. Trip and pull the stems away from the plant, starting with those on the outside of the crown.
Forcing rhubarb can be a reasonably stressful experience for your plants, so it is important to give them a chance to recover thereafter. Consequently it can be a good idea to remove the forcing pots once your plants are growing vigorously, and to feed them well with an organic fertilizer, allowing them to build up energy reserves for the following year.