January Gardening | Dividing Rhubarb
It’s been quite a bit colder over the last couple of days – around 6C/44F – but it looks like it’s going to be warming up again by tomorrow. It’s bizarre to think that this time last year we had snow on the ground and wind blasting the house. Today we have lawn daisies and primroses blooming in hedgerow and my container of spring bulbs should be blooming within weeks. Whether this unseasonably warm weather is due to climate change or the heat of the gulf stream flowing around the island is up to debate. What is clear is that if we’ve been given some early sunshiny days, we shouldn’t waste them by being indoors.
So it was in good spirits that my muddy wellies walked me up to the allotment on Friday, with a battery powered radio, a thermos of green tea and a garden fork in hand. I spent a good part of the afternoon digging over a couple of beds, checking the compost heap and dividing one of my rhubarb crowns that was getting out of hand. It was wonderful to be outside enjoying the spring-like air. How could anyone have the January blues when the birds are singing and the sun is on your back?
Winter is really a slower time in the garden – more for tidying up and getting on with construction projects than actually growing. So while I was digging over my last bed I amazed to see tiny celeriac seedlings hidden under the shadow of my purple sprouting broccoli. I’m sure they must have sprouted late last summer and have been hiding out ever since. That just goes to show how mild our winter has been so far! I gently dug up the seedlings and moved them over to another bed to see if they’ll grow on to nice juicy roots this summer. Though it could all be in vain since celeriac is a biennial and so goes to seed in the second year.
As far as veggies ready to harvest, I still have several rows of green onions weathering it out in addition to a couple of kale and brussels sprouts plants, purple sprouting broccoli and two rows of kohlrabi. The kohlrabi are fairly hardy but I decided to bring them all in last week since their bed needed digging. There are a few bigger ones which I’ll dice up and roast but the others are smaller and more tender so I’ll look for other ways to prepare them. I also took home some green onions which will be going into our supper tonight.
The most strenuous tasks of the day was dividing up one of my rhubarb crowns. They’re only two years old but have gotten a big big for their bed already. The crown on the downward side of the bed receives quite a bit of nutrient-rich runoff and so was particularly large. It suffered from its success last year and instead of producing fewer large stems it popped out masses of stems about the diameter of a 5-pence piece (the same size as an American dime).
These tiny stems and masses of leaves crowded each other out and caused quite a bit of rot under the plant. By dividing the crown in two and moving one half elsewhere on my plot I hope to rejuvenate it. The rhubarb wine I made last year turned out to be quite a hit so I’ll be using all the surplus I can spare to make even more this summer.
Dividing rhubarb is done in the winter and generally when the crown it’s about five years old. Rhubarb is divided in order to make the plant smaller and to give it more space, thus encouraging new healthy growth. You literally wrench the crown apart either in two or three pieces and then plant them back into the ground in different areas. If you don’t want more rhubarb then there are usually people who would be happy to take a bit of crown off of you – if you don’t know anyone directly, try giving it away on Freecycle or to a local gardening group.
To divide the crown you first dig it out of the ground which is no easy task and will result in quite a few of the rhubarb’s great roots breaking. Don’t worry about it though since the plant can withstand quite a bit of harsh treatment. Next you set the crown right side up on the ground and thrust two garden forks into the centre of it, back to back. Push the forks apart and the levering action will rip the crown in two. Do it again for any larger pieces and plant the individual chunks up in their new areas. As long as there are some reddish buds at the top of the crown it will survive and go on to grow another large plant.
Close-up of half of the original crown which is ready to be replanted
I probably won’t be spending that much time up at my plot in the coming week since there’s really not much to do now. Instead, my husband and I will be focusing on building four raised beds in the back garden and filling them with compost in time for spring. I’m SO looking forward to having some convenient space at home for herbs, lettuces and other bits and bobs that I can nip out and pick when needed. I’m also organising an island-wide seed swap event for next month and am really looking forward to meeting up with the heads of the other allotments on the island for a planning session and chat. Gardeners need a meet-up every now and again to get all geeky about growing 🙂
So how about you – are you working on anything in the garden at the moment? How have the temperatures been for you this winter? I’d love to hear from you 🙂