Rhubarb in a Basket

Practice your off-season gardening by forcing rhubarb to grow in the winter.
by Doris E. Stebbins
October/November 1999
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Winter rhubarb can be just as good as a regularly scheduled harvest.
Photo courtesy olhaafanasieva/Fotolia

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I have only to descend a few steps to the cellar to pick sweet, rosy stalks of rhubarb all winter long.

In the fall, after frost has killed the top of my rhubarb but before I apply a winter mulch, I dig a few clumps for forcing. I choose strong, well-grown roots and get them up before the ground freezes. I leave them outdoors — covered with a few inches of sand so they won't dry out — until they are thoroughly chilled.

Rhubarb will not sprout again until it has been through another "winter" (at least seven weeks of temperatures below 50°F but above 28°F). When the ground is thoroughly frozen, I carry the clumps to the cellar and plant them in bushel baskets or large buckets, packing damp peat in around the roots. I find the best temperature for forcing is between 60°F and 70°F. There is no need for light and only enough water should be added to keep the roots from drying out.

In about four weeks you'll notice pale yellow leaves, but rosy-red stalks. Pick the stalks when the leaves begin to darken and before the edges go brown. The taste is superb, comparing in delicacy with the sweetest peach. The clumps will keep you in rosy goodness all winter, and in the spring can either be replanted in the garden to recuperate or be discarded.

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