rhubarb crown

Rhubarb, like so many things I adore, requires more patience than work. You can plant a rhubarb crown through March – though November or December is best – so we squeaked in a quick bit of transplanting.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

My mother’s well-established rhubarb is coming along nicely. Next door to this raised bed, we needed to move some rhubarb to another spot.

rhubarb crown

We gently dug it out, just as you would if you were dividing it. I can see what it is called a crown, the roots are majestic.

rhubarb planting

The crown needs to be planted with the growth at or just above the soil level, and some good compost tipped in first will help it get a good start. Here’s where the patience comes in. Aside from watering in well, the rhubarb isn’t harvested in its first year, and only lightly in the second. Yet for a good ten years, the rhubarb should provide nicely, without much attention at all. A bit of fertiliser in midsummer perhaps, and then cutting back the leaves in autumn when they’ve died off. Not much to it.

rhubarb crown © elisa rathje 2013

It seems happy enough, though it might have preferred moving earlier in the year. One day I’ll be settled enough to put in my own rhubarb and look forward to years of pulling rhubarb for kiiseli, rhubarb tarts, rhubarb anything. Perhaps I shall give in to a Victorian impatience and try forcing it with a rhubarb pot! I anticipate it each spring as the first local fruit of the season.

planting garlic

When I choose what food to grow, particularly in a small space, with limited time, I like to choose something that is expensive to buy, keeps a short time, or comes from a long way away. Astonishingly, garlic is one of those foods that seems regularly to be imported to this country! Considering how effortless it is to grow here, and that it does perfectly well along the latitude that I seem to frequent, both in Canada and in England, it is a perfect crop for me. Have you grown your own garlic? It’s easy – let me show you.

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My mother let me devote one of her raised beds to a bit of garlic. Any pot or sunny-ish spot between plants will do.

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I topped the bed up with some good compost. No need to dig it in, the worms will have the amusement of that job.

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Like other bulbs that you might be planting at this time of year (if the ground around you isn’t yet frozen, nor yet under snow) you’ll want to notice where the roots are, and where the neck is. We’ll separate the cloves and plant the garlic root-side down. It is a bit flat on that end, and pointier at the top, in case you’ve bought garlic specifically for planting and cannot see any roots on the bulb. Buying ‘seed garlic’ may be a good idea, but I’ve never had a problem just using whatever organic garlic I had left in the kitchen.

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Also like other bulbs, you’re going to be planting garlic at a depth about 2 times its length. Press the earth around it so it is well tucked in. You can mulch over the top if your plants will need that kind of protection. It tends to be far too wet here for that, and mild, at sea level on the coast.

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To amend a verse from The Giant Radish: Grow garlic, grow big; Grow garlic grow strong!; Grow garlic, grow huge! I might put some more in another pot or two, as I aspire to grow enough to braid my own garlic. Such satisfaction, a ten minute task done, and in it I’ve won a tiny victory for eating local. I’ve been wondering a little about the true costs of transporting our food a very long way. They aren’t just ecological, and economical, are they? I wonder if these problems are very much about our own connection to our food, attachment to the seasons and the harvest, and a sense of one’s knowledge and self-reliance, too. There’s still time to plant your own garlic.

compost

Usually I wouldn’t invite friends into the corner of the garden where the compost bins live. It’s hidden away beneath the silver birches, behind the greenhouse, and well, it’s a compost. However, seeing as no kitchen garden would be complete without a good compost, here we are.

compost © elisa rathje 2012

In my tiny Vancouver flat I once kept a worm compost, just a bin on the deck. In the deepest corner of our little London garden, we built our own compost using three wooden pallets, filling the gaps in the boards with twigs from pruning the ash trees overhead. A cover of heavy soil bags helped to heat it up a bit and encourage things to break down. In the rolling country garden in Sussex I was a little more worried about creatures getting into the compost, so I’ve used a pair of bins. I needn’t have worried, as there aren’t many creatures to match the bears and raccoons that regularly assault the composts I grew up with in coastal Canada.

With a system of bins in place, one to rest and decompose, while the other is being filled, the trick is simply to get a good mix of ingredients:

Anything that was once living will compost, but some items are best avoided. Meat, dairy and cooked food can attract vermin and should not be home-composted. For best results, use a mixture of types of ingredient. The right balance is something learnt by experience, but a rough guide is to use equal amounts by volume of greens and browns… Some things, like grass mowings and soft young weeds, rot quickly. They work as ‘activators’, getting the composting started, but on their own will decay to a smelly mess. Older and tougher plant material is slower to rot but gives body to the finished compost – and usually makes up the bulk of a compost heap. Woody items decay very slowly; they are best chopped or shredded first, where appropriate.

I rather like Garden Organic’s video for clarity about how to do this. I aspire to one day keep chickens, not only for eggs but to make a powerful contribution to good compost, though the deer leave enough fertiliser to please anyone! The first time I dug out my own finished compost, full of worms, rich and dark and completely free, I was elated. It’s deeply gratifying to recycle the kitchen peelings and see all the prunings from the garden go back into the earth, ready to feed the garden again.