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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Beloved is in charge of the rhubarb; we have seven plants, six of which are descended from the first, which is over fifteen years old. One digs in the fall or winter to expose the root mass, split it in two, then dig out one of the halves as best one can. It's a muddy job usually, but one is rewarded by the sight of the exposed interior of the taproot, a very unwintry bright orange. We make a point of giving away some halves from time to time and many of our friends have clones of Stony Run rhubarb, which might be related to Victoria, we aren't sure. It's very sweet and makes successful pies and crisps, popular at potlucks. 

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so they become compost or mulch. The stems are picked, de-leaved, and brought in after they reach a suitable size, chopped, double bagged, and frozen. Seven mature plants can give you about forty to forty-five square feet of three-inch deep rhubarb crisp.

Beloved pays particular attention to the water, light, and nutritional needs of these plants, which are heavy feeders, and from time to time buys a gallon of fish emulsion for them -- almost our only bought-in fertilizer. I have been known to pour a dollop into a watering can now and then to boost other plants when they are stalling, but lately I'm feeling more confident about my brews of duck poo and blender-macerated willow and comfrey.

Today it has been raining off and on, including a brief thunderstorm with hail, so it's nice to hide inside and process pie plant, instead of having to do outside chores in the rain.

There are farms that specialize in rhubarb, and it's said that you can sit among the plants (in forcing houses in Yorkshire, anyway) at night in spring and hear them growing -- making a kind of creaky crowd noise. I find it serendipitous that theatrical people use the word when they want to represent a murmuring crowd, all together saying, almost under their breath, "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb."


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