Every working day as I endure the torturous commute to Leeds via the M1, I usually have time to stare out of the car window at what is one of Yorkshire's greatest assets.
A century or more ago, all the "civilised" world would have been familiar with what grew and prospered in these fields – rhubarb.
Nowadays it's rare to see rhubarb anywhere other than on supermarket shelves, although some seedsmen are now marketing the plant as something of a specialist, must-grow for the discerning gardener.
Rhubarb is easy to grow. Plant the crowns (mature roots) in February and March in a sunny site where the soil has been well dug and enriched with plenty of old manure. Leave it to settle down and get growing for a year and then start pulling the sticks – the younger the better, from April till the end of May.
By forcing (on a smaller scale than that carried out in those rhubarb triangle sheds) the gardener can advance the start of the harvest to as early as February.
Forcing means covering the developing shoots with a large bucket or perhaps some securely-fastened black polythene. If you are one of the new avant- gardeners, an expensive but attractive-on the-eye forcing jar might be preferred.
The outcome should be the same in any case – tender, juicy rhubarb ready for the kitchen.
Given its yearly dressing of manure, one healthy crown of rhubarb should last at least a decade before it tires and is ready to be replaced.
Some gardeners I know are still growing plants more than twice that age, but older plants tend to lose vitality and become prone to diseases such as crown rot.
Although rhubarb is unlikely to even regain the position it once held, it will never fall entirely from grace. Not as long as those fields near Wakefield continue to provide a reminder of one of Yorkshire's finest assets – and the county's gardeners carry on growing it.
YP MAG 24/12/10