How to Force Rhubarb

rhubarb forcer
If you’d like to get an earlier crop of rhubarb now is a good time to force it. Choose an  established rhubarb in your garden and simply cover the crown with a forcing jar, upturned dustbin or very large pot. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Restricted light creates baby pink stalks which taste less tart and not as fibrous, ready approximately 8 weeks after covering.
forced rhubarb stems
However, once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year (preferably two years of recovery), forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Before forcing, be sure to clear away the area around the base of the crown, removing decaying leaves and weeds to avoid the rhubarb crown rotting. Add a mulch of homemade compost or well-rotted manure to give a boost of nutrients.

Timperley Early rhubarb beginning to grow in winter

A tip is to grow 3 crowns (providing you have the space), allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. A good variety for forcing is Victoria.
rhubarb january
Timperley Early rhubarb in our kitchen garden 8th January 2017
Our favourite rhubarb variety to grow is ‘Timperley Early’, it starts cropping naturally as early as March. If you grow this variety you have to get a wiggle on and force it earlier than other varieties to produce an earlier crop, usually December for cropping in February. As you can see, our young crowns (planted last year) are already well on their way to producing some fine stalks! They’re not established enough to start forcing them yet, it’ll be another year or two before we can use the forcing jars on them.

Forcing Rhubarb

Last year I treated myself to a terracotta rhubarb forcer for my birthday, using the money I’d been given as a gift. The forcing jar spent much of the year nestled alongside the rhubarb looking rather stylish, eventually disappearing behind a jungle of rhubarb leaves. My rhubarb crown is just over 3 years old so I’m going to start forcing it. I grow Timperley Early rhubarb, as the name suggests you do get an earlier crop than other rhubarb, forcing this variety isn’t going to make that much difference with cropping time but what I’m after is the beautiful pink stems and sweet champagne flavour that forcing produces.

You can force established rhubarb by covering the crown with a forcing jar, an upturned dustbin or water-butt will do the job just as well. Doing this creates a dark and warm environment inside, forcing the stems into premature growth. Once you force a crown you should allow it to crop naturally the following year, forcing it year after year could seriously weaken it. Some gardeners force the same crown annually with no problems and would disagree with the advice above, I just tend to be a bit more cautious. A good tip is to grow 3 crowns, allow one to recover from being forced the previous year, force one and let the other crop naturally, when it should. However, keep in mind that rhubarb is a thug once established, each crown needs plenty of space and they’re hungry plants.

I’m looking forward to tucking into champagne flavoured crumbles and fools.