Ruibarbo, ruibarbo

THERE are many things a man needs to sustain him in life and one is rhubarb. There may well be items of greater importance, such as bread and butter, faith, humility and hot tea, but rhubarb is among the essentials. Anyone who has worked an allotment, or owned a back garden where dolly tubs rust quietly under elder trees and gutters sag from shed roofs, knows the one element that links them all is the rhubarb bed. A vegetable patch without rhubarb is like a hot-pot without potatoes. So this is my quest to grow rhubarb in Spain . . .

The challenges facing the cultivation of rhubarb in a Mediterranean climate are heat and evaporation. Rhubarb is not a common plant in Spain, but packets of ruibarbo seeds are available in most gardening shops. The strain I’ve purchased is Victoria, which, as it happens, in one of the varieties I grew in England.

Long ago, in that faraway land, I read that growing rhubarb from seed is a waste of time, the plant being best propagated by lifting the crown – or root – in the depths of winter and dividing it with a sharp spade (not a shovel, a spade). Like many things in that faraway land, this is a myth. I planted my Victoria seeds in pots last year and they grew like billy-o into delicate little rhubarblets.

I’m combating the heat problem by slinging old olive nets over part of the garden to create a degree of shade. Evaporation is being tackled by planting the rhubarb in a wicking bed – a device to which I was introduced by Pete and Sue Rodgers in nearby Lanjaron. Basically, this is a tank filled with a layer of gravel 25cm deep, covered with a membrane and backfilled with compost and earth. The gravel layer is kept saturated by means of pipes to the base of the tank, and the water “wicks” through the organic matter towards the surface. Evaporation is minimal because the plants are watered from below rather than above.

Digging holes in Spain is not an easy task
Plenty of stones to add to the rockery
Redundant header-tank
Plus layer of gravel and watering pipes
The membrane held down with old tiles
Adding earth and water
Little baby rhubarb

My tank is a redundant 1,500-litre header-tank rescued from behind the house; the gravel came from a hard-standing for a yurt that has migrated elsewhere; the membrane is an old carrot-fly net I brought from England; and the pipes were lying around waiting to be thrown out. The whole thing is constructed entirely from recycled materials. Even the compost is organic matter from my own garden compost heap.

The wicking bed, which I’ve buried in the ground at no small cost to my back, has been operational for a couple of months and my rhubarb is thriving. It’s growing as rhubarb should. All I need now is a willing cook to convert it into crumble. That’s the hard bit.

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25 thoughts on “Ruibarbo, ruibarbo

  1. Fabulous!! You certainly put some work into that project Alen, I hope that the harvest is suitably delish. Just one thing, perhaps you need to grow something else to complement the Rhubarb, maybe a Custardos Cremos plant; the sweet, thick, yellow juice goes perfectly with boiled rhubarb…….

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  2. Hi Alen,
    Brilliant read as usual.
    Looks like you are being kept busy and with the ringing in your ears of all back in the UK asking you before you left ” aren’t you going to get bored with nothing to do”. He he.
    The old wooden spirit level brings back fond memories of my days at techy college.
    Keep up the good work, say hello to Anne from us both and hopefully we can catch up for a beer
    soon.
    Regards John.

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    1. Hi John. Never a dull moment. We’re on with some decorating now. I hear you’ve been having fun with your plumbing. Funny how word gets round these parts.
      The spirit level belonged to my father-in-law, who was a brickie. And I’ve a couple of hoes of Anne’s grandfather’s that date back to before the First World War. Good to keep old tools in the family. I’ll drop you a line soon and we’ll have a get-together. Love to Sharon.
      Alen

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    1. Thanks for that, Hanna. I’ll have a crack at the pork, black pudding and rhubarb recipe sometime, because it goes well with pork, and chicken too. The rhubarb chutney looks good. Mind you, they all look good.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

    1. No oil but plenty of rocks. And it doesn’t take much water at all, just a quick burst with the hose about once a week to top up (or top down) the water.
      Cheers, Alen

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    1. You can build them from breeze blocks or sleepers, plus a waterproof lining. The ones I’ve seen were from breeze blocks, it’s just I had a spare header-tank handy.
      Cheers, Alen

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  3. Most people would have thrown out that header tank thinking it’ll never get used for anything. Your ingenuity at adapting to your environment has certain Neolithic qualities. Wherever humans appear there will be rhubard.

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    1. Funny you should say that. I spent a night in Bearnais bothy just south of Loch Carron a few years back. The only plants within a radius of a mile were heather and bog grass – yet rhubarb was growing among the stones of a ruined outhouse. That impressed me no end.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. I have Stockbridge Arrow – a good Yorkshire variety apparently. Mind you, mine goes too mad. It grows absolutely huge (as big as umbrellas), doesn’t really go very ripe in the stem. I think it’s because it’s on the North side of the house and after next-door’s light-blocking extension, gets virtually no light or sun. What do you think? You sound pretty knowledgeable on it

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    1. I’ve never heard of Stockbridge Arrow but I’ve just looked it up and it sounds like an excellent variety. Likes the sun or partial shade. If you want really red stems you need to force it, and you do this by placing a bucket or barrel over the young shoots as they are coming through at the start of the season. This makes them grow faster and turns the stalks pink. This is how they grow it in the “Rhubarb Triangle”, Yorkshire’s commercial rhubarb-growing area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell – in big dark barns where the plants are deprived of light. Someone needs to write a book about rhubarb.
      Cheers, Alen

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      1. well it’s certainly being deprived of light – I’d have thought next door neighbour’s extension was more or less forcing it. But still the stems are generally huge and green. Looks a bit like one of those wild umbelliferous plants you see on verges and riverbanks!

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