It is a sure sign of spring when the rhubarb patch starts to grow! Rhubarb leaf stalks are used in everything from pies, tarts, sauces, jams, jellies, puddings and even punch. Although it is categorized as a vegetable, most people think of it as a fruit since it is highly acidic and has a tart flavor.
According to our Iowa State University Extension Horticulturists if you are looking to start your own rhubarb patch spring is the best time to do it. Rhubarb plants can be purchased at garden center or if you are lucky enough to know someone dividing their plant you can start your patch with that. Each division should contain at least two to three buds and a large piece of the root system. Replant in your own spot as soon as possible. Select a site that will receive at least 6 hours of direct sun each day. Plants prefer well-drained, fertile soils that are high in organic matter.
If you have just planted your rhubarb do not harvest during the first two years. This allows food crown and root development. During the third year, harvest for a four- week period. In the fourth and following years, rhubarb can be harvested for eight to ten weeks, ending in mid-June. Do not harvest after that or the rhubarb plants will be weakened and less productive the following year. Do not remove more than one-half of the fully developed stalks from any plant at any one time.
If your plants produce flower stalks remove them as soon as they appear. Flower and seed formation reduces the plants vigor and inhibits leaf stalk formation. Rhubarb crowns often become overcrowded after eight to ten years. You might notice that the stalks become smaller and there aren’t producing as much. Dividing the plant should help with this problem. Just remember to wait two years before harvesting again.
If your plant is producing more than you can use you might want to freeze some to enjoy later in the summer or next winter. Here are the directions to freeze yours successfully:
Preparation – Choose firm, tender, well-colored stalks with good flavor and few fibers. Wash, trim and cut into lengths to fit the package. Heating rhubarb in boiling water for 1 minute and cooling promptly in cold water helps retain color and flavor.
Dry Pack – Pack either raw or preheated rhubarb tightly into containers without sugar. Leave headspace. Seal and freeze.