Victory Gardening Series: Rhubarb is the Gift That Keeps on Giving

By Dawn Gerlica, HF&G Horticulturist

It’s now June and hopefully the weather will finally cooperate to allow all the warm season crops to get started. If your garden is not fully planted yet, don’t fret. Gardens are very forgiving and not meant to be a stressful activity. Even though potatoes can be planted as early as the snow peas (March) they don’t appreciate cold wet soil. Mine just got into the garden a week ago and that’s about when they usually go in because things are so busy in the spring. Except for a few crops like tomatoes and peppers that need a really long growing season, most things can still be planted now as seeds and still be harvested this year. 

Planting & Maintenance

If you planted rhubarb in the past, this is the season to harvest. Rhubarb is like asparagus and should be planted into an area of the garden where it can grow for the next 20 years or more. It is a perennial and will come back year after year, if it is happy. Rhubarb likes a lot of organic matter in the soil, and wants a location with at least a half day of sun. As it starts to grow every year, it will try to bloom, and to keep the plant from putting effort into seed production, cut the flower buds off. Fertilize with compost, cut off the flowers, pull the weeds and rhubarb will produce beautifully for a very long time.

Harvesting

Rhubarb is a vegetable, but most often cooked and consumed in recipes as a fruit with sugar because it can be very sour. The plant contains both malic and oxalic acid. Oxalic acid, also known as calcium oxalate, should be consumed sparingly because the crystals can accumulate in human organs and form kidney stones, but as with most things in life, moderation is key. Cooking greatly reduces the amount of oxalate, but only the stalks of rhubarb, from two inches below the leaf, should be eaten because the calcium oxalate content is extremely high in the leaves and they are considered poisonous.  Harvest rhubarb stalks through June and then give the plant a rest. You can harvest a few stalks here and there throughout the summer, but the plant needs its leaves after June to feed itself and as summer progresses, the stalks get tougher and stringier.