Hey there, fellow green-thumb enthusiast! If you’ve ever pondered on adding rhubarb to your garden – the vegetable that’s famously masquerading as a fruit – you’re in the right place.
Now, rhubarb may have a reputation for being a bit of a diva when it comes to its needs (like Mariah Carey, but in vegetable form), but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be cranking out those rhubarb pies in no time.
Rhubarb is a hardy perennial that, once established, will produce bountiful harvests for a decade or more, much like your favourite sitcom reruns. The crisp, tart stems are a treat, though be warned, only the stalks are edible – the leaves are high in oxalic acid and are toxic.
They could potentially make you do the Macarena backwards or see unicorns. Just kidding, but seriously, they are not to be eaten. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of planting, nurturing, and harvesting this gorgeous plant.
First things first, rhubarb is a cool-season crop, which means it thrives in areas with a winter freeze. If you’re living somewhere closer to the equator than the North Pole, rhubarb may not be your cup of tea.
Planting Rhubarb: Step-by-Step
1. Timing is Everything:
Just like baking a cake, timing is crucial when planting rhubarb. You’ll want to start in early spring when Jack Frost is no longer nipping at your nose but has yet to fully take his leave.
2. Choosing the Right ‘Vehicle’:
Rhubarb seeds? Pass. Instead, we’ll choose ‘crowns’ or ‘divisions.’ They’re like mini rhubarb plants raring to go on an exciting journey, perhaps in their imaginary flashy red sports car.
3. Preparing the Perfect Home:
A successful rhubarb plant starts with the right soil, as they crave rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. It’s like prepping a five-star hotel room for a celebrity – everything has to be perfect.
4. Digging a Comfy:
Bed When it’s time to plant, you’ll dig a hole that can comfortably accommodate your crown’s roots. It’s like carving out a spacious and luxurious master bedroom for your plant.
5. Tucking the Crown In:
Gently place your crown or division in the hole, and cover it with compost-enriched soil, leaving the top bud free to breathe. It’s like tucking your child in bed but leaving their head above the covers.
6. Personal Space Matters:
Rhubarb plants love their space. Make sure each plant has about 3-4 feet of personal space, as they are not fans of cuddling up.
Caring for Rhubarb: A Day-by-Day Guide
1. A Spa-like Water Treatment:
Rhubarb craves regular watering – about 1 inch per week. They love a good soak, much like a relaxing day at the spa.
2. The Right Diet for Growth:
Just as we need good food for growth and health, so does rhubarb. A high-nitrogen fertilizer applied in early spring and after harvest gives your rhubarb the nutrients it needs to thrive, kind of like a superfood smoothie after a workout.
3. The Gift of Mulch:
To keep your rhubarb comfortable and weed-free, mulch around the base of the plant. It helps retain moisture and keeps the roots cool during the summer, much like gifting your plant its very own AC unit.
Harvesting Rhubarb: Patience Pays Off
1. The Waiting Game:
Just like waiting for your favorite band to release their new album, you’ll need to practice patience with your rhubarb. Resist the urge to harvest in the first year, allowing it to establish a strong root system.
2. Calendar Check:
From the second year onwards, your rhubarb is ready to rock. Aim to harvest from April to June, when stalks reach about 12 to 18 inches long – the green thumbs equivalent of prime concert season.
3. The Art of Harvesting:
When it’s showtime, hold a stalk near the base, then pull and twist. No need for hulk-like strength, we’re aiming for finesse over force.
Pro Tips for Rhubarb Harvesting
Once you’re past the novice stage, you can up your rhubarb game with these extra nuggets of wisdom.
The Color Conundrum:
You know how we associate red with sweet, ripe fruit? Well, rhubarb is here to throw a wrench in that assumption. Many folks believe that the redder the rhubarb, the sweeter it is – a myth as persistent as Bigfoot sightings or your Aunt Linda’s claim that she used to date Elvis.
The reality is rhubarb can range from verdant green to crimson red, but this shift in shades has no bearing on ripeness or sweetness. So, don’t judge a rhubarb by its color. Instead, rely on the stalk’s firmness and size to tell you when it’s prime for picking.
The Great Divide:
Everything has a life cycle, including your rhubarb. Every 5-10 years, your once bountiful rhubarb might start to resemble a cramped city apartment with smaller stalks sprouting. This is rhubarb’s subtle hint that it’s time for a change.
To keep your plant healthy and productive, divide the crown in early spring or autumn. This process is like helping your rhubarb through a rejuvenating self-discovery journey after a long-term relationship.
Split the crown into several pieces, each with at least one bud. Then, replant the divisions, and you’ll have more rhubarb plants ready to produce in the coming seasons.
Fend off Foes:
Rhubarb is the Chuck Norris of the garden world – tough, resilient, and seemingly impervious to common garden pests. However, even Chuck Norris has his weaknesses, and for rhubarb, it’s crown rot. This disease can be a significant issue if your rhubarb is planted in poorly drained soil or overwatered.
To avoid turning your rhubarb patch into a crime scene, ensure your soil drains well, and avoid drenching your plants. If you notice any signs of disease (wilting, discolored leaves, or a bad smell), act swiftly. Remove and dispose of the infected parts immediately.
Remember, this is not a time for sentimentality – there’s no place for a ‘get well soon’ card in this situation. Prevention and prompt action are the keys to keeping your rhubarb patch healthy.
A Year Off for Better Yield:
Yes, you read it right. As hard as it might be, resist the urge to harvest your rhubarb in its first year. This will allow the plant to focus all of its energy on growing stronger and establishing a robust root system, rather than producing stalks.
It’s like sending your rhubarb off to a year of strength training. By the second year, your plant will be ready to produce a bumper crop of delicious stalks. Remember, good things come to those who wait.
Don’t be Leaf-Hearted:
Rhubarb leaves may look tempting, especially if you’re a fan of large, leafy greens. But remember, these are not for your salad bowl. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which can be harmful if ingested. Instead, send these leaves straight to your compost pile.
They’ll break down into nutrient-rich compost that you can use to feed your plants. This way, your rhubarb leaves won’t go to waste.
The Rhubarb-Poultry Connection:
If you’re fortunate enough to have backyard chickens, they can form a symbiotic relationship with your rhubarb. Chicken manure is a fantastic source of nitrogen, which is beneficial for rhubarb. Spread some aged chicken manure around your rhubarb plant, and it’ll reward you with a prolific harvest.
In return, you can feed your chickens the rhubarb leaves. They contain an insecticide that can help rid your chickens of lice and mites. A win-win situation!
The Harvest Technique:
When it’s finally time to harvest your rhubarb (pat yourself on the back!), you’ll want to use a particular technique. Rather than cutting the stalks, pull them.
Reach down to the base of the stalk, grasp firmly, then pull and twist. This method is gentler on the plant and encourages more growth. It’s like giving your rhubarb a gentle chiropractic adjustment!
Keep It Cool:
Rhubarb is a cold-weather lover, which makes sense when you consider its origins in Siberia. If you live in a region with hot summers, provide some shade for your rhubarb during the hottest part of the day.
You can use a shade cloth or even plant your rhubarb on the east side of a structure, so it gets morning sun and afternoon shade. It’s like providing your rhubarb with its very own sun hat!
Now, armed with these tips, you’re well on your way to becoming a bona fide rhubarb whisperer!
And there you have it! Your comprehensive guide to becoming a rhubarb guru. With a bit of patience, care, and a healthy sense of humor, you’ll be the envy of your garden club and the pie-making hero of your family.
Remember, in the game of gardening, we don’t plant for immediate gratification, but for the bountiful harvests of tomorrow. Now, go forth and rhubarb!