At this time of year it is easy to overlook the vegetable garden. Very little changes as the winter vegetables are standing beautifully, waiting to be cropped. A final weed and tidy of the year gives the impression that the garden has entered winter hibernation and is waiting for the spring to arrive. However this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is probably the most crucial period of activity as preparations are now in full swing for the earliest of next year’s crops that will fill the gap between the last of the winter faithfuls and the beginning of spring cropping in earnest.
The most exciting of these early crops is the forced rhubarb. We work on what is essentially a four year rotation with our rhubarb. We have two patches in the garden and last year the plants by the watercress bed were lifted and divided. Once lifted those divisions which are not replanted in the kitchen garden are left on the soil for a cold treatment to shock them back into life. They are then bought up to the nursery where they are planted in either the peach house or the ploytunnel for forcing. The added heat of protection gives an earlier crop than those forced outside. The stress of this process however means this is a final flourish for these crowns and once cropped they are thrown away.
This year we have divided half the rhubarb near the main gate. This allows us to force the undisturbed half of the bed outside for a later crop. The crowns which are replanted will need a year to recover before summer harvesting the year after. It is only in the third year when they are fully established that we can once again force them in the kitchen garden. Come the fourth year they are once again ready for dividing and replanting. All this means that by February we should be able to begin the New Year’s cropping with this beautiful vegetable.
Words and photographs by Helena
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