Life On Pig Row: The secret to growing rhubarb

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The Oldham family

High on the Saddleworth hills, the Oldham family have created an inspiring kitchen garden which provides a wealth of rich flavours for the kitchen and larder. This column, written by Andrew and Carol, follows their journey throughout the year

For more information, visit their website

THERE ARE people who talk about our rhubarb; some of them whisper about it as we come and go with our jeans rolled up.

There are those who email us, asking how our rhubarb is bigger than our son, Little D. We have been stopped on Uppermill High Street by a man demanding to know why our rhubarb grows well and his doesn’t.

The answer to why our son is tall and how our rhubarb is always lush and high is all down to food.

Rhubarb is coming to the end of its harvest season for us, and for you, there’s the real secret to growing good rhubarb and the real mistake many growers make.

Rhubarb shouldn’t be picked after the second week of July. This is not an old wives tale or a rumour put around by Yorkshiremen to put up the price. It’s common sense.

Rhubarb needs the remainder of summer to grow, to soak up the sun, the rain and the heat – and so far there has been little of that. It wouldn’t go amiss to give them a manure tea feed around now.

For those of you thinking that Little D’s height is down to drinking something very funky you’re wrong. More than likely he stood for too long in a muck pile when he was a toddler.

However, manure tea is a simple feed for plants. You need a water barrel, a stick wider than the opening, some string, a hessian sack or an old cotton pillowcase (for goodness sake do not grab the first pillowcase from the linen cupboard, you will pay for it) and you fill it half full with horse or cow muck.

Then tie up the open end, tie it to the stick and dunk it in the barrel. Leave it there for a week. Don’t leave it there for three months as someone we know did as you will find that the sack or pillowcase will rot away and you will have a barrel full of slurry, which does not make for easy watering.

When you have your manure tea, mix it with water as you need, make it the same colour as weak tea rather than builder’s tea. You don’t want to be able to stand a spoon up in it.

Then water away. Around here, manure is free, and rhubarb grows freely if cared for correctly.


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