The forced is with us
David Overend reports.
sheds, a few of which can still be seen in fields alongside the M1.
The plants spend two years out in the open, absorbing sunshine and storing energy. Then they go into the sheds where the dark and warmth “forces” them to grow longer, sweeter stalks, rather than producing leaves to absorb sunlight.
And January is, traditionally, the month to get forcing in earnest; not on the commercial scale, but in your own garden.
Forcing – covering developing shoots with a large bucket, a black polythene sack or an expensive but very attractive, purpose-made terracotta jar – will encourage them to grow quickly. So fast, in fact, that you could be enjoying the fruits of your labours as early as next month and continue to tuck in to pies and crumbles until the start of May. After that, the shoots tend to get a bit stringy and tough, so compost them.
Given an annual dressing of manure, a crown (mature root) of rhubarb should last up to a decade before it needs replacing, although some amateur growers are still harvesting from crowns planted way back in the mists of time when just about every small garden had at least one patch of rhubarb.
Wakefield Council holds an annual Rhubarb Festival in February, celebrating the area’s links and promoting the surviving rhubarb industry.
TENDER SHOOTS: Forcing rhubarb in January means gardeners could be enjoying the fruits of their labours by next month.