How To Grow Rhubarb And Make Pies, But You Have To Be Careful

If I learned something while growing plants, trees and vegetables, it would be the fact that every plant is a story. Each is unique with its demands, gifts, and requirements. And each will make your garden (and dishes, if we are talking about vegetables) to explode with something new, whether that be color, scent or taste. 

To learn how to grow rhubarb, you don’t need a lot of things. All that is required is to kick back, relax, read this article, and see what will be needed to grow these large-leaved vegetables. So, let’s get straight to business, shall we?

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I Have Never Heard About Rhubarb, What Is It?

rhubarb

To put it simply, rhubarb is a plant which is grown for some time, but only recently it gained more attention since there is an increased positive attitude about vegan nutrition. Since rhubarb has a sweet taste, it is no wonder that its production grows. Still, here are some general facts about this plant.

  • Rhubarb got its name from words rha and barbarum, and both of those were expressions used for River Volga, where it grew
  • The ancient Chinese called it dà huáng which means “the great yellow”
  • It was used as medicine for millennia, primarily for treating constipation
  • Until the 18th century it was used primarily as medicine; after prices of sugar dropped, the people started cooking it
  • At the beginning of the 18th century, rhubarb was introduced to the United States
  • Only the stems are edible; leaves are toxic if ingested
  • This plant requires full or partial sun
  • It will continue to grow for at least a decade
  • pH of the soil can go from 5.0 to 6.8, although the best one is at range 6.0-6.8
  • Watering and compost are needed, especially during summer months

As I have shown you, there is little care needed for growing these “crimson stalks,” as they are sometimes called. Undoubtedly, choosing the location is perhaps the most essential feature, so let’s get to it right away.

Location

location grow rhubarb

It is vital to take a good look and choose wisely where the plant will be set. Once the rhubarb is planted, there is no moving or switching places. It doesn’t endure shock well, and will probably die out.

Therefore, see where the sun shines the most. This is the first thing. Next, see that the drainage is good. Although rhubarb loves water, it prefers the soil to be moist, but well-drained. Like the majority of other plants, it can and will suffer from rotting if left in the water.

If you can’t afford to landscape, consider making raised beds. These are relatively easy to make, and you will avoid spending a lot of money.

Moreover, you will have to take into consideration that rhubarb has huge leaves, and covers a large area. About 6 square feet per plant are needed, so calculate now and make plans. And don’t worry if they look weak and thin, they will grow and fill the gap.

Preparation

soil

Getting ready for planting and growing rhubarb has several stages (or items, if you prefer). The first is to set the date when it will be done and to prepare the soil. Recently, I was writing mostly about the vegetables and herbs which needed only a week or two of preparation, so rhubarb with its 4-weeks long period is different.

As soon as the soil thaws, you can set the plan in motion. Remember, this vegetable is a heavy feeder, and a lot of compost and manure will be needed, so if you don’t have reserves, start finding them now.

And not just compost, any organic matter will do the trick, grass clippings (these are excellent since they lower the acidity of the soil), plant waste, whatever you have at hand.

Apply a lot of it, since it releases the nutrients slowly, it won’t harm the plant. I have strayed from my standard procedure to turn the soil once in every few days. Instead, I have done that only a couple of times, but tilled deeply, so it mixes with the ground thoroughly. After four weeks, the soil was ready, and sowing was in order.

Sowing And First Year

rhubarb in first year

Although it is possible to start rhubarb from collected seed, I didn’t want to wait for another year for the plant to get stronger. Instead, I have bought crowns and decided to take this road. Besides, it is much easier, since they go straight to the ground, without the stress of moving.

Since the roots of the rhubarb will spread, I have dug a hole the size of a basket and about one foot deep. I’ve also tossed a shovel of compost to give it a head start and planted the crown. It was covered with soil and watered thoroughly.

There is also a possibility to plant rhubarb in autumn, but I decided to go with the spring period.
Now, as for the first year, I didn’t disturb the plant at all. Watering from time to time was applied, weeds rooted out, but that was it. Some people will suggest that you can harvest it during the first year, but I didn’t want to risk it. I wanted the roots to grow as healthy as possible.

Hot summer months are most risky for rhubarb, and while the sun was scorching, watering was done early in the morning, so the water was absorbed before the temperature rises. Also, mulching with straw is excellent for rhubarb, since it will cool down the soil, and keep the moist within.

Winter Care

rhubarb in winter

The winter is coming, as Jon Snow would say, and although rhubarb loves cold weather, you can’t just leave it out there. Alone and frozen (sad violin in the background). You need to cover it so that it will come back the next year. If you don’t, it will fade away, just like in the song by Rolling Stones.

Its best friend during winter will be straw cover and snow. The straw works as an amazing insulator, so even if the temperature drops significantly, it will be able to endure. The snow prevents cold wins to reduce the temperature even further, so if it falls, you should know that it is a good thing.

The Following Year And Harvest

harvest rhubarb

Depending on your approach, the year after planting crowns can be the one when you start with harvesting the stems. Remember, leaves are toxic, do not consume them by any means. Once the leaves grow at about 12-18” long, they are ready for harvesting. Watch for thickness; if they are thin, skip collecting and just cut the flowers instead.

There are usually two harvests during the year, but it depends on your cycle. I have avoided harvesting after July, since the plant slowly prepares to go dormant, and needs all the strength it can get.

Speaking of strength, in the second year, you can consider using fertilizer. 25-3-3 or 10-6-4 will do the trick or any other rich in nitrogen. Rhubarb doesn’t have fruits, so nitrogen is the most important for it.

As the winter approaches, you will notice that leaves are starting to wither. Be sure to remove them as soon as possible, since they can cause pests and diseases to appear.

Concerning harvesting, the procedure is straightforward. Once the leaves grow to recommended length (12-18”), grab the leaf at the base, twist it slightly and pull. In case that it struggles, take shears and cut as low as possible. Never harvest all the leaves, since the plant needs them to continue to grow.

The stems should be hard and crisp to touch. If they appear to be soft and wimpy, do not consume them. This is the sign that toxic ingredients had moved from the leaves to stems.

Storing is inconvenient for rhubarb, and all I did was to gather a certain amount, wrap it in tin foil, and put into the refrigerator. Like this, it will stay fresh for a few days. In any case, it is best and tastier when used fresh.

Pests And Diseases

pests

Luckily, there are only a few things which you need to take into consideration when it comes to vermin and diseases. Keeping the soil evenly moist and without weeds will prevent any to appear, but still, if it does happen, don’t panic.

Snails and several kinds of mites and borers will rarely attack the plant, but if they do, remove snails by hand. Mites can be removed organically in several ways so that you don’t need to use aggressive chemistry.

Conclusion

So, in the end, there are not many things to worry about when growing these exotic tasting plants. They will surely add the taste to your meals, and my personal favorite is this yogurt from Jamie Oliver.

Now that you know how to grow rhubarb, there is no reason not to give it a go.
In case that you have some interesting suggestions, feel free to use the comment section below.

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