Forced Rhubarb

David Westwood harvesting forced rhubarb

A number of the remaining Yorkshire growers are fighting to gain EU protected status for forced rhubarb. Only a few decades ago Yorkshire was producing 90% of the worlds forced rhubarb. This is now much less with forced rhubarb being imported from countries such as Holland.

To produce forced rhubarb takes a minimum of 2½ years. The rhubarb roots (crowns) are grown outdoors for 2-3 years. They are then lifted and left on top of the ground until either a frosty spell of weather or cold rain. This is needed to trick the crown into growth once in the shed.

An outdoor crop is not harvested to ensure the crown has the energy within it to produce quality stalks in the forcing sheds.

The large crowns are placed in the shed by hand so they are not damaged. They have to be carefully placed close together and the right way up. This happens around the beginning of November.

some forced rhubarb

The rhubarb is grown in warm dark sheds. It is this combination that encourages the plant to grow. Originally coal was used to heat the sheds but diesel is now used due to the Clean Air Act.

Traditionally candlelight is used in the sheds to harvest the crop, soft light will not affect the rhubarb’s growth. The rhubarb is harvested between December and the end of March.

It is much deeper in colour than outdoor (green top) rhubarb with a more delicate flavour. It is expensive to produce, as it is labour intensive requiring many man-hours to lift in the fields and place in the sheds.

After the forced rhubarb has finished the crowns are composted, all their energy is used in one harvest. New crowns have to be used each year.

Thanks to David Westwood for the photos. On his family farm they grow some of the best Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb.
David Westwood & Son