Growing up in the midwest there were a few foods that I looked forward every growing season, one of them being Rhubarb. If you never heard of it or had a recipe with rhubarb you need to give it a try. Most of the time you will see it in sweet pies, breads, muffins and jams which would make you think of it as a fruit…wrong. It’s a vegetable and best of all it’s a perennial. We’ve had ours for about 7 years and each season it gets better and better. Wanna give it a go? Here are a few things to remember when planting and harvesting rhubarb which will help give you a healthy crop each season.
WHERE TO PLANT: Rhubarb grows best in climates where the ground freezes but it can be grown as far south as zone 7. Most plants require an extended chilling period with temperatures below 40 degrees to produce a crop of stems.
WHEN TO PLANT: It’s best to plant rhubarb in the very early spring and if you can find a rhubarb plant or grow a plant from seed first that is ideal. Planting rhubarb seeds directly into the ground doesn’t work well.
HOW TO PLANT: Rhubarb are heavy feeders and like moist soil. It’s best to plant the rhubarb crowns around 4 inches deep and dig the planting holes at least a foot deep if the plant is big. If your soil is mostly clay then consider planting in a raised bed. I always start my plants with compost and then add more compost as the season progresses. To help keep the soil moist put 2 inch thick organic mulch, straw or bark around the plant.
TRANSPLANTING: Like any perennial it will continue to grow each year and there will be a time that you need to transplant the rhubarb to relieve overcrowding. It’s best to divide the plant every 5-10 years. You will know it’s time to divide when the stems are crowded and becoming thin. It’s best to divide the plants in early spring or fall before the growing season begins. Dig and lift in clumps, cutting roots into pieces about 2 inches across.
WHEN TO HARVEST: When planting don’t harvest any rhubarb the first year. It’s best to let the crop mature and grow the start harvesting the 2nd year. That 2nd year only harvest lightly, removing only a few stalks but then once it’s been in the ground 3 years you are free to remove as many stems as you can. Be careful not to harvest the whole plant, you want to continue production from year to year so only remove 1/3 to 1/2 o of the stalks each year.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Once your plant has a year of growth it can be ready to harvest from the beginning of spring through summer. Choose stalks that are about 10 inches long, and the stalks are reddish/pink in color.
HOW TO HARVEST: The best and easiest way for me to harvest my rhubarb stalks is by gently pulling the stalk from the bottom until it comes off the plant. Never harvest all the stalks off your plant because that could lead to killing that plant. Once the stalks are free from the plant cut the leaves off and throw in the compost bin. DON’T EAT THE LEAVES – they are poisonous.
COOKING WITH RHUBARB
Now you know how to plant and harvest rhubarb but what happens afterwards? What the heck can you do with it? Well, there is a ton of amazing recipes out there for you to try, and pairing rhubarb with strawberries is my all time favorite. Here are some of my favorite Strawberry/Rhubarb recipes.
As your rhubarb plant grows each year your crop becomes bigger and bigger and there is only so many rhubarb recipes you can make at one time. I’ve found freezing rhubarb to be a huge time saver and a great way to preserve it until I am ready to use the rhubarb. When making muffins, cakes and pies I suggest using the fresh rhubarb but when making jams, sauces or even fruit leather you can use frozen. All you need to do it cut from the stalks, clean and then either cut into small slices or short sticks then place them in a freezer baggie until you are able to use them. Take out what you want then put the rest back into the freezer.