Rhubarb is one of those under-rated old fashioned plants and produce. When I moved to the Limestone coast SA from the Kimberley in my early 20’s I had never even heard of rhubarb. Then my mum cooked it up a couple of times with just water – and the sour fruit was edible but not that enjoyable. But still – I planted a patch. I loved the fact that it was almost an instant fruit. I had planted about 30 fruit trees and knew it would be at least 3 years before I saw my first harvests. So I planted rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries, as well as watermelon, rockmelon and honeydew & champagne melon so I could have fruit while I waited.
My first rhubarb were crowns gained from my good gardening friend Sue. She is an inspiration – running a fantastic garden on sandy poor soil and harsh water – she still managed to grow healthy happy plants in abundance. Through Sue, I found the rhubarb had more uses than to just eat. Its leaves were a great deterrent to the pesky insects that loved my other produce. There are many great recipes for sprays – but I loved to just lay the leaves around the produce having the most problems.
I then bought some rhubarb from a local nursery. It was nice and vigorous – but it was green stemmed, and when stewed up or in a pie looked kinda gross! So I was then on the hunt for some bright red ‘old fashioned’ rhubarb. Finally another friend Lindy had split her crowns in her garden and was selling some at the local market shop . I bought the 10 plants she had for sale.
Fast forward another year, and I realized I still didn’t have enough rhubarb because of 2 new recipes. Rhubarb cake was introduced to me from Wades mother Beth. Gorgeously moist and with 6 cups of raw rhubarb per cake it was a healthy scrumptious way of getting fruit into even the non-fruit kind of man (not Wade, no hassle there!).
When we tried adding Rhubarb to my Strawberry Jam, instantly I knew it was a match made in heaven! As good as Strawberry Jam is – when it is made with pure strawberry fruit without the fillers that most jams are made with – this jam is sickly super sweet (I know! what a delicious problem!) Add rhubarb and it takes away the sickliness and replaces it with a creaminess which is all morning sunshine! With our strawberry patch increasing from 200 plants to 1200 plants this year – I new my rhubarb patch wasn’t going to cut it!
I went back to Lindy and got another 2 crowns which I took home and had no idea what to do with them. I went on the google hunt and every site had conflicting information. I didn’t have time to spare – I needed to get them into the ground. So I’m writing about what did work; as they are now re-shooting and poking through the mulch so I know I didn’t kill them!!
I had been waiting all winter for my rhubarb to go dormant so I could shift them. Also all the sites said the crowns had to be at least 5 years old. Well I didn’t abide by either of these rules. If the crown still had leaves on it I pulled all the stalks off like you do when you harvest them – and the last couple of stalks I just cut the leaf off to stop any extra respiration loss. Then I used a Broadfork to loosen up and get deep under the huge fleshy taproots. Once we had teased them up, I used a sharp kitchen knife to cut each crown into pieces making sure there was a bud or two and some root on each piece, then quickly before they dried out, went and replanted them in soil that was very rich in organic matter thanks to all the sheep manure, rock minerals and worms that we’d had put in 6 months before. I watered the crowns in with Seasol and a pinch of salt per watering can – a gardening magazine had said that this will replicate the facts and ecology that rhubarb is happiest found grown near the seaside! I did the same for the crowns that had gone dormant too. A few smaller plants I just replanted the whole plant and didn’t divide it – after all we were moving the whole rhubarb plot to the other side of the house!
Fast forward 2 weeks and it is beautiful seeing the jewel red stalks, glossy green leaves poking through the sandy coloured mulch. I would recommend for anyone to try dividing their rhubarb – or getting some crowns from a friend. The price at nurseries for a rhubarb crown varied from $6 to $15 – which is a good deal considering they fruit nearly forever. But they are so easy to divide yourself – give it a go! There aren’t too many ways to lose!
And make sure you play around with rhubarb in the kitchen. My mother ferments rhubarb into a sometimes exploding home-brew! OK, so don’t blow up the kitchen, just don’t be content with the traditional, acidic stewed fruit. If it’s all we know, it’s that there are much tastier ways to love this fruit! While moving the rhubarb crowns, we used the last red stalks – the prunings – and made a rhubarb/passionfruit stew with pear chunks, and then made pies out of them. A gorgeous pink/red coloured filling – and extremely, indecently delicious! Good for the soul! We all have memories made from rhubarb, choose the right recipe!
All our honest-to-goodness rhubarb recipes:
Find Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam here
and a Sugar-free ‘Strawbarb’ Jam
Mulberry-Rhubarb Jam is pretty good!
What a great article Rachel. Cant wait to try your strawberry & rhubarb jam….YUM!! and love the organic insecticide use of the rhubarb leaves – I’ll be giving that one a go myself and passing on the tip. Cheers
Hi Laela, happy to drop off some strawberry & rhubarb jam anytime, and coming through again on Sunday if you like. Rhubarb is definetly one of my favourite plants; i’ll drop off a bottle of sparkling rhubarb too if you’re quick to reply! I haven’t done much work with insecticide use of rhubarb leaves; but i do lay them around the plants that are having any incect problems. Wade just mentioned you can stick a short length of rhubarb stem into the soil next to the stem of a plant to ward off cock chafers!