Easy methods to harvest rhubarb with out plant harm

The word "rhubarb" comes from a Latin term, "rhababarum", which means the root of the barbarians. The name originated when the Romans called anyone who ate the rhubarb a barbarian. That doesn't stop us from enjoying this fruit today, and knowing how to harvest rhubarb is the first step!

In today's culinary world, rhubarb is commonly used in desserts such as cakes. Many recipes combine it with other fruits to create complex, exquisite flavors. It is also used to make sauces, jams, compotes, and cake fillings. But beware! The leaves attached to the rhubarb are poisonous and contain a large amount of oxalic acid.

The aromatic product is generally considered a vegetable, but in 1947 the court officially ruled that it was a fruit in the United States because that is how it is most commonly consumed. Are you thinking about growing and harvesting rhubarb in your vegetable garden? It will take some hard work on your end, but this unusual plant is well worth your time and effort.

When should I harvest the rhubarb plant?

How to harvest rhubarbKnowing how to properly harvest rhubarb is important. Source: ksbuehler

Growing rhubarb can be a lot of fun, but you need to be patient before harvesting rhubarb for the first time. The stems must be at their full length to get the maximum value!

But how long does it take before you can start harvesting rhubarb? This depends on the strain as some grow faster than others. Typically, however, you want your stems to be at least 30 cm long for smaller varieties and up to 30 cm long for larger varieties.

If your rhubarb plant is perennial in your garden, choose not to harvest for the first year to give the plant time to establish itself. If you are growing it annually, all you have to do is wait for it to grow to the right size.

While most of early spring is taken up by the growing season, you can prune and come back regularly from late spring to early summer. If you pick your crop in early July or mid-July, you will get the best products. The best time to harvest is in the morning as the plant is fully rested from the cool night temperatures and ready for harvest.

Choose stems that are at least the width of a finger. Smaller, pencil-sized stems are still too small and should be allowed to grow. If you only seem to have thin stems in your garden, you may need to fertilize your plants to encourage more growth. Add more compost or fertilizer and make sure you feed early next year to keep things going well.

If you grow this beautiful rhubarb plant as an annual, you can get a final harvest of all of the plant's remaining stems at this time of year in the fall. Those who grow the succulent stems as a perennial want the plant to save its energy during the fall months so it can survive the winter.

The color of your rhubarb really depends on its variety. While we all think the stem is a dark red hue, not all strains will produce that color. Instead of using its redness as a measure of maturity, assume your strain's normal coloration.

How to harvest rhubarb

Great rhubarb plantFirst take from the outside of a large rhubarb plant. Source: MJI Photos

It's important to harvest rhubarb in a way that doesn't damage your rhubarb plant. After all, you'll want to collect stems regularly throughout the growing season!

Start by inspecting your facility. You'll find that it grows similarly to celery, with large outer stems and an inner central core made up of several smaller stems. Always leave these central stems alone so the plant can recover from each harvest.

To harvest, slide your hand over the stem to the base. Firmly grasp the bottom, pull and twist. Usually the stem will come off neatly in your hand. If it doesn't come off easily, cut the stems right at the bottom with a clean, sharp knife.

While it may seem appealing to cut through each stem, it is better not to do so. When pruning, an open wound is left at the base of the plant, which can become infected with bacteria or fungal diseases. If you break away the stem neatly, less damage will be done.

Avoid taking too many stems at the same time. No more than a third of the plant should be harvested as it needs enough energy to come back! It is better to harvest a few stems from multiple plants at a time than to take too many from one.

Rhubarb leaves contain high concentrations of oxalic acid and are therefore poisonous and inedible. Once you've picked rhubarb, remove the leaves and immediately place them on the compost heap. If you harvest rhubarb and leave the leaves intact, the stems will peel off and wither faster if you keep these leaves full. The best time to remove them is the first time you have the stem in hand!

If you do it right, you will still harvest rhubarb for years to come. Once the beginning of July rolls around you will be surrounded by long, juicy stems every year, and each stem will be the perfect addition to your future rhubarb pie!

How to store fresh rhubarb stalks

Now that you know how to harvest rhubarb, storing fresh rhubarb is easy. The best method of storage depends on when you plan to use the product.

For short term storage, there are two methods you can use that are effective. In either case, it's best to save unwashed rhubarb and wash it immediately before using it.

The Jar Method: Remove the leaves from the stems. Fill a glass almost halfway with water. Put the cut rhubarb stalks in the water and put them in the refrigerator. Cover the top with a plastic bag. It will help retain enough moisture and keep your rhubarb fresh. Change the water at least once a day. This method is ideal for storing fresh rhubarb for 2 to 4 days.

Aluminum foil packaging: Place rhubarb stalks on a sheet of aluminum foil, fold the edge over the cut ends, then loosely roll it up. Don't completely seal the stems in the foil or your rhubarb will go bad faster. Place the wrapped rhubarb in the refrigerator in the sharper drawer.

Other methods of storing rhubarb

Chopped rhubarbChop rhubarb or freeze whole for long-term storage. Source: Sarah Cady

Would you like to keep rhubarb longer? Freeze the stems right after harvest!

To properly freeze your harvested rhubarb, rinse it with cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Chop it up into smaller pieces and place in an airtight container or freezer-proof plastic bag (don't forget to blow out any excess air!). Label the container or bag and place it in the freezer. When properly stored, frozen rhubarb can last up to a year.

Drying is not an option for rhubarb. It's best either fresh or frozen.

frequently asked Questions

Q: When shouldn't you pick rhubarb?

A: Stop picking rhubarb when the summer heat comes. The stems can become woody in late July in warmer weather, and the plant will need to store energy to survive the winter months.

Q: How much rhubarb can you harvest at one time?

A: To ensure that your rhubarb plants are recovering well, it is best not to take more than ⅓ of each rhubarb plant at a time. Give the plants some time to recover and then grow back afterwards.

Q: Does picking rhubarb encourage growth?

A: Yes! Picking rhubarb will stimulate the plant to regrow as long as it is present in small quantities at any given time.

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