The arrival of April has the garden responding with buds bursting, new growth and early blossoms … a rebirth of life. I am always amazed when I seen the first large rhubarb shoots making their way out of the ground. Once grown, and harvested, it will give us the first fresh “fruit” harvest for the year. More on rhubarb later…
Gardening chores, like pruning fruit trees, grapes, raspberries and the roses, that were not complete in March are on the top of the list for April. Onions and potatoes benefit from early April plantings. Greens such as lettuce, choi, spinach and kale are cold weather crops that can be seeded in April. Care needs to be taken with watering, as most tap water remains very cold at this time of year. Leaving a watering can or barrel sitting in the sun can be a good source for early watering.
The first blooms in the garden include primroses, crocuses and daffodils followed by hyacinths and tulips. The forsythia will give a large splash of yellow on a couple of weeks. In the greenhouse, sitting among my blooming geraniums, April is also the time for transplanting my peppers, tomatoes, basilico and artichokes from their seedling trays to larger pots. It will not be long before they are ready to make day visits outside or to be placed in a cold frame to gradually toughen them up for May planting in the garden.
Traditionally, rhubarb (rabarbaro) was not in the diet of most Italians. Rhubarb, (Rheum rhabarbarum), is a hardy perennial of the smartweed family (Polygonaceae) native to Asia and grown for its large edible leafstalks. The ancient Chinese used rhubarb as a medicinal herb over 5,000 years ago. The word rhubarb is likely to have derived in the 14th century from the Old French, rubarbe, which came from the Latin rheubarbarum and Greek rha barbaron, meaning 'foreign rhubarb'. The name rhaponticum, means 'rha from the region of the Black Sea or the river Volga, Rha being its ancient name.
By the early 18th century rhubarb was grown as vegetable crops in England and Scandinavia. It was brought to the Americas by settlers before 1800. Because rhubarb can be easily grown anywhere in Canada it became a main stay in most of our early settlers gardens. Early Italian settlers were no exception and they easily adapted to this new plant for pies, jams, wine and more.
As one chef in Italy commented: “Due to the fact you can’t buy rabarbaro (rhubarb) in any of the grocery shops or vegetable stalls we planted it a few years ago and it is thriving. I show it off to everyone who comes by our house.” Franchi seeds, available on line from “The Seeds of Italy” website: https://seedsofitaly.com/common-rhubarb/ have made rrhubarb available to many more parts of the world.
Life-long Gardener Don Rampone shares his tips and advice for gardening