June 2003 II
Advice and tips on
© 2003 Janelle N. Seavey
Companion Planting Ė a gardening system using the natural affinities
of plants to promote or inhibit growth in their neighbors. Knowing which
plants like each other and which ones don't can increase the health and
vitality of your garden, improve the taste and nutritional value of your
vegetables, confuse pests so you can eliminate toxic chemicals, attract
beneficial insects and add to the enjoyment of gardening.'
Janelle gardens on about four acres
on the Messalonskee Stream, an outlet from Messalonskee Lake, one of the
Belgrade Lakes Region Lakes, one of which is Great Pond, made famous in
the movie "On Golden Pond".
She is an "enthusiastic
and a tad obsessed" gardener who has been companion planting for over 20
"Little Siberia" index
Books - Companions
Know A Good Rhubarb Lawyer?
Sentimentality tries to dog my every move. In defiance of this, I have
no doubt thrown things out that, appraised and sold by a reputable antique
dealer, would by now have found me retired in Barbados. On the other hand,
I have kept every toy, book and puzzle that my now twenty-year-old son
has ever laid a hand on. Even more unsettling, I kept not just his first
lost baby tooth, but every one that came out of his mouth. Yes, I know
that is bizarre. My husband, forever my polar opposite, has brought
"packrat-ism sentimentality" to a realm close to being a new branch of
anthropology. His hoarding practices will be intently studied a million
years from now. I do believe he has every nail he has ever bent, starting
with his first tree house, constructed when he was 6. When we married, I
had to covertly get rid of his grade-school clothes. These two personality
traits came to the fore recently when I decided to move our house-lot
sized rhubarb patch.
First, another in a running series of Maine colloquialisms: No one in
Maine (unless they are "from away"), calls rhubarb, "rhubarb".
It is, almost, without exception, pronounced, rhuBUB.
Thatís right, just like your friend "BUBba", the
350-pound former football defensive lineman. (Hey, I can tell you dozens
of these Maine dialect idiosyncrasies!)
Iím not sure about the rest of the country, but here in Maine, if you
live anywhere that is remotely rural, a patch of rhubarb is mandatory. I
mean mandatory as in oneís property taxes being higher if you are wasting
a perfectly good piece of terra firma for something as useless as a lawn,
when it could be sprouting rhubarb. In light of
that, some 20 years ago, a dear cousin of my motherís gave me three
withered roots from his patch, which he had acquired from his
fatherís patch. Some folks pass down family heirlooms, here, we pass down
rhubarb. The hole was dug, composted manure shoveled in, the roots were
set and covered with dirt. It was not long before this particular crop of
"pie plant" became "rhubarb on steroids". It thrived, and then some! Every
fall I top dressed it with 80 pounds of manure and put it to bed for the
long winter with a blanket of straw over the manure. Every spring bigger,
wider, taller plants mutated like jackrabbits. When it reached some 8í
long, 5í wide and nearly 5í tall (ok, not quite a house lot), it needed a
new home outside the veggie garden, resulting, naturally, in the clash of
rhubarb sentimentalities and the disparate philosophies of my husband and
I dug a trench about 12 feet long, 2 feet wide and a foot deep. This
was 10 feet or so from the vegetable garden, where the rhubarb currently
grew. I layered about 10 inches of composted manure in the trench and
tilled it in. You almost cannot give rhubarb too much manure. To rhubarb,
this is nirvana.
Now, my plan was to divide the massive clumps of roots into
small pieces and replant just a fraction of the current, bionic crop. This
would not only be healthy for the plants themselves, but I knew, that in a
matter of a few years, this would be the "mother lode" of rhubarb once
again. My husband would hear none of this!
"This is the rhubarb that Malcolm gave us." he protested.
"It will still be the same rhubarb." I explained.
"Malcolm would turn over in his grave if he knew you were throwing away
his rhubarb!" he said, pleadingly.
"Malcolm, as we knew him, is no longer in his grave and Iím sure he has
better things to do where he is now, than ponder whatís happening with his
earthly rhubarb." I replied, barely concealing the impatience that was
coating my voice.
Looking and stubbing his toe at the ground, he sighed, "I just canít
believe you are gonna throw this away."
The next several moments are a blur to me now. Let me euphemistically
say that "words were exchanged". There was mention of rhubarb possibly
being grounds for divorce for the first time in history. Someone
questioned if our friend and lawyer, Bob, handled such a thing as
"depraved indifference to rhubarb". There may have even been an order to
"Step away from that sharpened spadeÖnow!" All I know is
that right now, every original root is still in the ground, albeit in a
new place and at least one of us, whose initials are H-I-M, is smugly
pleased. My prediction that the entire patch would die instantly has not
come to pass, so, it is with great difficulty that I must say, apparently,
I was wrong. Malcolm, may he rest in peace, is no doubt dancing the
While I would not wish such dilemmas on any other couple, I feel I can
redeem my tarnished image with some of the following tips and facts about
this much beloved plant.
Rhubarb is a good companion to all the brassicas. For many years, I
alternated cabbage and broccoli plants around my patch and they thrived. I
often let some of the broccoli and rhubarb return to seed. Their yellow
flowers just looked pretty and the bees were grateful, though I cannot
imagine what that particular honey must have tasted like. I have also read
that putting pieces of the rhubarb leaves in the furrows or holes where
you are planting your brassicas is beneficial. I have never done this
myself, so I cannot attest to its effectiveness. Please remember, however,
that the leaves and roots of the rhubarb plant are toxic, due to their
production of oxalic acid. Do not eat any part of these and if you tear up
the leaves, wear disposable gloves, washing your hands when done.
When my son was small, one of his favorite snacks was a stalk of
rhubarb with a little bowl of sugar to dip it in. Many of the old time
rhubarb varieties are very tart/sour, but I believe some of the newer
hybrids may be more palatable. Being a very old variety, ours makes your
eyes water and your toes curl when eaten. Another benefit invented by my
late cat "Cookie" was to turn the cool, moist, shaded ground under the big
leaves into her own tropical cabana. Just so you know, her "lateness" had
everything to do with a car and nothing to do with the rhubarb. Apparently
our four acres were not enough to sate her appetite for exploring. One day
last fall, she crossed the road successfully, but her return crossing was,
shall we say, not as successful. I miss her terribly even now, several
Let me close by saying that, in spite of this upheaval in our marriage,
my husband and I have come to realize that (flashback to the 60s) love
means never having to say "Hey, letís move the rhubarb!"
Wishing you peace and contentment in your gardening!
copyright 2003 Janelle N. Seavey