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Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

EV­ERY year at this time, one of our big clumps of rhubarb starts fl op­ping into a state of sur­ren­der in an­tic­i­pa­tion of win­ter. In­stead of stick­ing up boldly, as they have dur­ing spring and sum­mer, the stems are now fool­ishly sprawled fl at on the ground and even those big green leaves are start­ing to look ex­hausted.

This is the big, green- stemmed va­ri­ety Vic­to­ria. By half­way through June there will be lit­tle to see, apart from the shriv­elled rem­nants of stems and fo­liage. Our big old clump, hand­ily planted next to the gar­den tap used to wash the soil from car­rots and other root- crops, has not been di­vided for about eight years.

Last sum­mer it threw up a des­per­ate protest in the form of sev­eral rather vul­gar- look­ing fl ower spikes. They were quickly snapped off and the age­ing, badly con­gested rhubarb clump didn’t bother try­ing again.

This al­ways hap­pens when we take too long to di­vide es­tab­lished clumps. This job should take place at least ev­ery three years. Old, ne­glected rhubarb de­vel­ops enor­mous, woody, half- dead crowns, of­ten sur­rounded by younger roots.

The trou­ble is caused by in­creas­ing amounts of dead ma­te­rial be­low the ground. It pre­vents younger growth – usu­ally on the out­side of the main crown – from spread­ing its own roots and grow­ing prop­erly.

Di­vi­sion is easy, but it takes a bit of deep dig­ging to do the job prop­erly. Wait un­til win­ter when all leaves and stems have with­ered. Rake the de­bris clear, then go right around the clump with a sharp spade, driv­ing it in ver­ti­cally. Fi­nally, lever the lot out of the ground.

If you’ve never done this be­fore, you’ll be as­ton­ished at the size of the root mass. It can be enor­mous. Use a hose jet to blast off all soil and to ex­pose the so- called “eyes” at the top. These are just big, dor­mant buds and in an old clump there can be up to a dozen.

Use your spade to chop up the crown to cre­ate sev­eral di­vi­sions, each con­tain­ing just two “eyes”. There will be lots of black­ened, semi- de­cayed or dead ma­te­rial which can be cut free and dis­carded.

The healthy di­vi­sions can be re­planted, some even in the same spot – but al­ways in full sun and in per­fectly drained con­di­tions. Most im­por­tant of all, the soil must fi rst be en­riched.

Of all the plants we grow, rhubarb is among those that can never be over- fer­tilised. I will hap­pily dig in a full bag of sheep ma­nure for each new di­vi­sion. Work it in as deeply as pos­si­ble. Then I’ll add half a bucket of pel­letised poul­try ma­nure, sup­ple­mented with blood and bone. The lot is thor­oughly mixed into the soil and then wa­tered with heav­ily di­luted sea­weed con­cen­trate.

Healthy rhubarb di­vi­sions are in­serted into this fer­tile mix­ture, with the prom­i­nent buds on top and just be­low the sur­face. You’ll be amazed not only by the speed of growth from early spring, but de­lighted with the fl avour of your lib­er­ated rhubarb.

How­ever, dur­ing the fi rst sea­son avoid pick­ing too many sticks to al­low newly planted clumps to fully de­velop. Later up to half the sticks can be har­vested.

I should men­tion that green- stemmed rhubarb al­ways re­mains green. The colour

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