One of the few vegetables that is perennial is rhubarb. Rhubarb will grow back year after year if properly cared for. This pretty vegetable, which can range in color from pale pink to deep red, is rich in flavor and sweet, like fruit. Harvest rhubarb to make pies, baked goods, chutneys, and more.
Part 1 of 3: Harvesting Rhubarb at the Right Time
Step 1. Wait at least 1 year before picking rhubarb stalks
Do not pull any rhubarb stalks in their first year of growth. Plucking will weaken young plants. Allow each rhubarb plant to grow until it has a strong network of roots in the first year and do not pluck the stalks. Start harvesting in the second season.
- If the plant looks very healthy, you can pick 1 to 2 stalks in the first year. However, this is an exception.
- Rhubarb can continue to grow for up to 20 years.
- You can get 1-1.5 kg of stalks from mature plants in each season.
Step 2. Harvest rhubarb from late spring to midsummer
The peak season for rhubarb is April through June. The benchmark, pick rhubarb before the beginning of July. Harvest period usually ranges from 8-10 weeks.
- The rhubarb plant will be dormant during the fall and winter.
- If you harvest rhubarb too late, the stalks may be damaged by the freezing conditions, making them inedible.
Step 3. Find a stalk that is 1 to 2.5 cm wide
The mature stalk will grow to the size of your finger. Allow the smaller stalks to continue growing.
- Stems that are too fat will feel rubbery and hard.
- Do not harvest rhubarb whose stems are too thin. This is a sign that the plant is undernourished and weak.
Step 4. Make sure the stalk is at least 20 cm long
The longer it is, the richer the rhubarb will be. While 20cm is the minimum length before rhubarb can be harvested, stalks between 30 and 45cm long are best.
- This measure only includes the length of the stalk, not including the leaves.
- Run your hand along the stem. If it feels crunchy and firm, then the rhubarb is ready to be harvested.
Step 5. Don't judge the ripeness of the rhubarb by its color
Contrary to popular belief, how red or hot a rhubarb stalk is does not determine how mature the plant is. Not all rhubarb is dark red. Some varieties have paler shades of red or even green when the plant is ready to be picked.
Turkish and Riverside Giant are 2 common varieties of green rhubarb
Part 2 of 3: Picking Rhubarb
Step 1. Twist and pull the stalk as close to the base of the plant as possible
The rhubarb stalk should always be twisted cleanly away from the mother plant as this twisting or pulling will stimulate the roots to grow more new stalks. Gently pull the stem while twisting it so that it cuts neatly.
- If it's hard to pick, use a gardening shovel or shears to carefully cut the stems at the base of the plant.
- Do not cut or damage the core tubers as this can inhibit rhubarb growth.
Step 2. Pick only a third of the crop each season
Picking this small amount will prevent the rhubarb from experiencing stress. Leave at least 2 stalks to encourage the plant to regrow the following season.
- For example, if this is the second season for the plant and there are 7 stalks, pick only 2 stalks and leave 5 healthy stalks so the rhubarb can continue to grow.
- In the third season onwards, you can pick 3-4 stalks per rhubarb because the number of stalks on the plant will definitely be more.
Step 3. Pull or cut the leaves from the stalks and discard them
Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which is toxic and should not be eaten. Cut the leaves by hand or use a knife or scissors to cut them off the stems. Remove the leaves or make compost.
- Leaves that are left will make the stalk dry and wilt faster.
- Make a spray solution of rhubarb leaves to keep pests away from plants in your garden, such as from broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts (Brussels sprouts).
- Also don't give rhubarb leaves to livestock as fodder!
Step 4. Trim the plant by cutting off any broken or flowering stalks from the base
Do not leave broken stems on the plant as this can cause the infection to continue to develop. Just eat the stalk or throw it away.
- Also remove the flower stalks. That way, the plant's energy will be focused on growing healthier stalks instead of on flowers.
- Prune wilted or insect-eaten leaves so they don't affect the entire plant.
Part 3 of 3: Saving Rhubarb
Step 1. Wrap the rhubarb stalks loosely in aluminum foil
Place the rhubarb on a sheet of aluminum foil and fold the ends over the entire stalk. Don't completely seal the edges. Leave a little hole for air to get in and out.
- Wrapping the rhubarb stalks tightly in moisture and ethylene (a hormone that ripens vegetables) will make the rhubarb rot faster.
- Do not wash the rhubarb until you are ready to eat it.
Step 2. Place the wrapped rhubarb in the refrigerator for up to 2-4 weeks
The best place to store rhubarb is the vegetable drawer, as this is where the humidity is highest. This drawer won't let the rhubarb stalks dry out. After 1 month, or whenever you notice mold spots, throw away any uneaten rhubarb.
Set the refrigerator temperature to 0 to 4 °C for storing rhubarb
Step 3. Freeze rhubarb so that it can be stored for up to 1 year if you are not planning to use it in the near future
To freeze rhubarb properly, first wash and dry the rhubarb with a paper towel. After that, cut the rhubarb into small slices and place it in an airtight container or plastic sealed specifically for the freezer. Store rhubarb in the freezer to use for up to 1 year.
- If you are using sealed plastic, remove any excess air before the seal is closed.
- Label the container or plastic bag with the date and name of the contents using a permanent marker.
- Frozen rhubarb can be used to make smoothies or baked cookies.