January Gardening | Dividing Rhubarb

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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 🙂

26 Discussion to this post

  1. Dani says:

    That rhubarb dividing looks like you could've used some manly assistance? Strenuous work, that.

    If you're having Spring, we've only just started summer LOL Temps in the Western Cape hit between 35- 49oC yesterday, and today feels no better.

    Oh, for a cool spring day…

    • I definitely could have used some manly assistance…but it beats not having a gym membership!

      Dani, I'd die in your climate. Anything more than 28 and I start to melt. But I envy the produce growing opportunity you have 🙂

  2. Sue says:

    And I'm jealous of both you and Dani—I'd LOVE to be able to be outside puttering in the garden.
    Lucky you!

  3. You have things looking good! Still a couple months until spring, it can't come too soon for me. I can only haul horse and chicken manure to the garden at this point, the chickens then tear it up and work it into the ground for me.

  4. Everything looking shipshape at the allotment Tanya – I split my rhubarb last year but I still have far too much – even though it is unseasonably mild I still get really cold if I'm out longer than an hour – so I have to work in short bursts, then rush back indoors for hot cups of tea. I'm such a wimp!

  5. Fran says:

    Who needs a gym when you can have such a good workout with a rhubarb!! I had a potter and tidy up at the allotment on Sunday nothing like the amount you have got done xxx

  6. We're having milder temps than usual too and no snow..I've seen some of my bulbs popping up too. Your gardens look lovely even in winter!

  7. Thank you so much for those seeds, which arrived this morning. The farmer is most interested in them. We have little success with french beans here – we are at 799 feet above sea level and quite exposed, but he is going to try growing them under glass – we have some old windows which come in handy for jobs like this and we have had tremendous success with early lettuce under them.

    We do no gardening in the winter as our ground is far too wet. My herbs are all sprouting though and I still have plenty of leeks to harvest. Your beds look lovely.

    I think my son and his wife are coming to IOM for Easter – if so I shall get him to look you up.

    • Please do send them by 🙂 Where will they be staying on the Isle?

      I also have some leeks but I'm really new to growing them and have been transplanting them too late. This year I'll get them out MUCH sooner.

  8. Hi Tanya, your allotment is looking great, very neat and tidy! V good idea to have salad and herbs near the kitchen – I grow those edibles on my balcony so they're nearby. Nothing worse in the middle of cooking than to discover the herb you need is not to hand! Weather fairly bitter here, so looking forward to warmer weather and gardening in sunshine.

    • You're so right…and if you don't have herbs close at hand it's more likely that you just won't use them at all. I've found that quite a few of my herbs just went to seed when I left them at the allotment. It's going to be great having more of them here at home 🙂

  9. Jo says:

    Your allotment is looking lovely and tidy, I wish I could say the same about mine. It will be handy having some growing space at home. I generally grow some things in containers, it's easier to harvest things when they're nearer to the kitchen. The seed swap sounds interesting, don't forget to show us what you get.

    • Mine wouldn't be so tidy if we had a colder winter… I have to admit that I probably made zero visits to my plot in January 2011!

      I'll definitely do a post on the seed swap next month…there's already quite a bit of interest already so hopefully it will be a success 🙂

  10. I was also just about to write how neat and organised. 🙂 I have raised beds at home and it is lovely to have a bit of space outside my back door for salads, herbs and whatever else I fancy putting in. Even though it's getting colder here in Hastings there are still roses flowering and I picked some calendula growing wild. It's almost as though winter hasn't happened. So far I've been quite enjoying it, but now it feels quite odd!

    • Roses and Calendula…that's the warm gulf stream flowing past you at Hastings as well, isn't it? It's a rather strange winter we're having but it's great that we're able to do a bit of pottering around outside 🙂

  11. Mr. H. says:

    I had to smile when you mentioned gardening with a radio and thermos of hot tea…I do the same.:) Hope your nice weather holds out.

  12. Mark Willis says:

    Hooray for the Raised Bed plan! I've never had an allotment, so I'm not really qualified to comment, but I reckon that having your veg plot just outside your back door has to be a better arrangement!

  13. Lrong says:

    Haven't tried growing celeriac or rhubarb yet… and yes, nothing much is growing here too in the winter season… it is time to do some maintenance…

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