January is usually a quiet month in the garden but there are still things that can be done now to help with the growing year ahead. And one of those relates to rhubarb.

Rhubarb is actually classified as a perennial vegetable but treated as a fruit.  It normally starts to produce long tasty stems in April, which can be harvested from late April until mid-summer. However, sweeter tasting stems can be created in just six to eight weeks before then!

What is rhubarb forcing?

The process is known as rhubarb forcing and simply involves covering part or all of an established plant with an object that completely deprives it of light. This is whilst being tall enough to accommodate the stems as they grow.  These objects are known as rhubarb forcers. They traditionally were made from terracotta with a lid that can be lifted to check on the plant during this process.  Keep the plant covered for six to eight weeks before removing the forcer.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a rhubarb forcer. An old metal dustbin will do the same job turned upside down over the plant. To speed up growth horticultural fleece or bubble wrap can be wrapped around the forcer, providing more warmth to the plant.

Forcing rhubarb in a terracotta pot

Why does forced rhubarb taste sweeter?

The reason why forced rhubarb tastes sweeter than non-forced stems is the stems are deprived of light as they grow. This stops them producing chlorophyll, the pigment that usually turns leaves green. Chlorophyll tends to have a bitter taste, so by producing minimum chlorophyll the stems of forced rhubarb taste sweeter.

When do you force rhubarb?

Forcing rhubarb can be started at any time between November and March and, as previously stated, should only be done on established plants.  After forcing it’s best to rest the plant for a year to give it a chance to build up its energy reserves again.

Inside a terracotta rhubarb forcer

Get started on forcing your rhubarb this January, and enjoy the sweet stems sooner in the year as a result.

Learn how bake an apple and rhubarb crumble using your forced rhubarb:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas: