You may not realise it but “Yorkshire forced rhubarb” is on the list of foods that have their names legally protected by the European Union – right up there with Stilton Cheese and Parma Ham. Of course, that designation only applies to farms within the famous ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ in West Yorkshire. Nevertheless, the whole of Yorkshire has a great tradition of growing rhubarb in gardens and allotments across the county.
Forced rhubarb is more tender and sweeter than stems grown with the plants exposed to normal light conditions and, many would argue, is one of the real delicacies of the allotment. January is a good time to check existing crowns to see how they have overwintered and to ensure there is no sign of rot to the centre. Forcing the plant to produce early stems is relatively easy. Cover the crown with a bucket or upturned pot ensuring that all light is blocked out. So cover drainage holes in pots with stones and then just let the plant do the rest. When stems reach the top of the pot, they are ready for harvesting. Forced stems are lighter-coloured and are generally ready three or four weeks earlier than your normal crop.
At this time of year, most of us are not thinking about planting. But there is one crop that, if you didn’t plant in the autumn, you could consider allocating some space to this year. Garlic requires frost to kick-start its growing process, so planting before the last frost is best and there are many varieties that you can happily plant in January or February.
You buy seed garlic in bulbs, so you will need to separate the individual cloves for planting. You should choose a sunny well-drained spot for planting (so those of us with plots at the wetter end of the site will need to plant in raised beds otherwise the seed bulbs will rot). For nice big heads of garlic, the soil should be loose with a good level of nutrients; so fork the soil over well and dig in a couple of buckets of well rotted compost or a general purpose compost from the garden centre (not fresh manure – this should ideally be composted first).
Plant the cloves pointy-end up a couple of inches underground and about 4 to 5 inches apart. Pack the soil down lightly.
The garlic will need watering well in late spring and into summer for nice plump bulbs (but be careful not to overwater!). Stop watering 3 or 4 weeks before your estimated harvesting time (which will vary depending on variety).
Good Luck! – Chicken and 40 cloves of Garlic – Yummm!