It is as unnecessary to sing the praises of Rhubarb as it would be foolish to decry it. The community has made up its mind that it likes Rhubarb, that Rhubarb is good for it, and that consequently Rhubarb it must have. There is really no more to be said.
Nor is there much room for remarks on how to make Rhubarb grow. If the question were how to kill it, the case would be different, and there would be a fine field for discussion. Rhubarb takes some killing, and if anyone wants to thoroughly disestablish a colony of it he has to dig hard and dig deeply.
Probably the majority of people establish Rhubarb by planting "crowns" - rootstocks with latent or starting buds. This may be done in autumn or spring, the latter for choice. But seed may be resorted to, of course, and spring is the time to sow it.
If Rhubarb fails - and, accommodating as it is, it does so sometimes - the cause may usually be sought in planting on a dry, poor site. You will sometimes see Rhubarb planted on a slope, from which the water naturally drains, leaving the ground parched for a considerable part of the year. That does not suit Rhubarb. It likes moisture. With its strong roots and crowns, it revels in food too. The soil can hardly be made too deep and rich. I once knew an old gardener celebrated for his Rhubarb, in which he took great pride. He was supposed to have some great and mighty secret bearing on its culture, which no one could induce him to part with. He was bowled over at last, though. The secret proved to be a hose pipe fed from a sewage tank, and trained surreptitiously along a back way to the Rhubarb. That pipe won him many a prize.
It is no use cramping Rhubarb for room. Give the crowns a yard apart, at least; more for a big variety like Victoria. If they become very strong, they might be lifted for forcing if that is required the first year, but frequently it is wise to wait till the second. If a large stool with several crowns is lifted, it is a simple matter to cut off one or two crowns for replanting, force the rest of the stool, and then throw it away. Of course, forcing on the ground - i.e. turning a dark cask or tub over the undug stool, and covering it with littery manure - imposes no such strain as forcing a lifted stool in a house or shed.
It was once my privilege to visit the extensive Rhubarb forcing grounds in the neighbourhood of Leeds. There the Rhubarb is forced in low wooden sheds heated by brick flues. The roots are packed on the floor, and rich, friable soil is worked between and over them. This is kept moist, and the place kept dark. With a steady temperature of 45° to 55° maintained there is soon a supply of sticks.
Fig. 82. Rhubarb Grown From Seed.
A, a good planting crown, or may be forced in water.
B, a good forcing stool raised from seed.
A young plantation of Rhubarb should not be pulled from too soon. At least a year should elapse before the produce is used.
The number of varieties is not so great, fortunately, as is the case with some vegetables, and it increases but slowly. The old varieties, such as Early Albert, Johnston's St. Martin's, Myatt's Linnaeus and Victoria, still have their following. The first and last are fine sorts, and if supplemented by Daw's Champion or Hawke's Champagne for early work, will give all that is necessary; indeed, Champagne for an early, and Victoria for a late, would meet the wants of most people.