It’s May! and more importantly, It’s rhubarb season!
My garden has received about three and a half inches of rain since Saturday night, which has, in turn, more than doubled the size of the rhubarb in that same time. If the promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures next week holds, I don’t think it would be out of line to see the first rhubarb harvest in about two weeks or so!
In anticipation of the first garden harvest of the season, I’ve pulled together some posts from the archives as well as a few other helpful resources that will have you growing, cooking, and preserving rhubarb like a pro this year:
Where to Find Rhubarb
No rhubarb in your garden? Spring is a great time to establish a rhubarb patch! The easiest and most efficient way to propagate rhubarb is by dividing a healthy, mature plant. Check with friends, neighbors, and local plant sales sponsored by garden clubs or Master Gardener programs. If you don’t know anyone with a rhubarb patch in need of dividing, you can purchase crowns at your local garden center or order through a reputable nursery. Always check new divisions and crowns for signs of root rot before planting. Some rhubarb varieties are available as seed. For best results, over-plant in order to cull out the seedlings that do not have the characteristics you desire. Victoria is the most common variety available by seed.
- How to Divide + Transplant Rhubarb
- How to Plant Rhubarb Crowns (video)
- List of Rhubarb Varieties + Characteristics
- No room to grow your own? Minnesota Locavore’s advice on finding local, fresh rhubarb
Rhubarb is a pretty low maintenance perennial. It should be situated in rich, well-drained soil, where it receives full sun and regular watering. Rhubarb is incredibly cold hardy and in fact needs to have an extended period of dormancy below 40 degrees; springtime shoots do not need additional protection from frost or late season snow. The best fertilizer for rhubarb is well-aged compost, which can be added to the surface of the soil around the plant 1-2 times a year. Depending on the variety and age of the rhubarb, the plant may send up a flower stalk. If you see an emerging flower stalk, cut it off with a sharp knife as close to the base as possible, so the plant will not expend energy it needs for production and the next year’s growth on producing seed. Seed saving is not recommended, as seed collected from most rhubarb varieties do not consistently produce true to type. Once a rhubarb patch is established, it should be divided every 5-6 years. Spring (April – Early May) and Fall (September) are the best times of year to divide rhubarb.
- Grow Great Rhubarb with a Side Dressing of Compost + Manure
- Removing Flower Stalks to Prevent Bolting
- How to Divide + Transplant Rhubarb
- Growing Rhubarb in Minnesota Home Gardens
- The Rhubarb Compendium (contains an extensive collection of botanical + growing information)
When starting a new rhubarb patch, you should not harvest from the plants in the first year (longer if starting rhubarb from seeds) in order to allow the plants to first become well established. Once established, rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks have reached their full length (usually 10-12 inches long, depending on the variety). Select the largest stalks first, allowing the younger stalks to continue to fill in. Rhubarb stalks can either be cut or pulled; I prefer to harvest by grasping the stalk as close to the base as possible and giving it a firm pull. I use the rule of thirds in harvesting rhubarb, picking no more than one third of the stalks at one time. Always discard the entire leaf portion of the stalk, as rhubarb leaves are toxic. In order to allow the rhubarb time to store up enough energy for the next season, stop harvesting after the 4th of July.
There are easily 101 (give or take a few) sweet and savory ways to prepare and consume the edible stalks. Sweet baked goods like pies, breads, bars, and cakes readily come to mind (and the top of search results), as most people do find rhubarb most palatable when the tartness is balanced out with some sweetness. However, sweet applications are not limited to baked goods; there are some really creative recipes that include ice creams, custards, and even rhubarb soda. Rhubarb also lends itself to savory applications like sauces, salad dressings, and quick pickles.
Rhubarb recipes on Sweet Domesticity:
- Rhubarb Sorbet
- Rhubarb Creamsicles
- Rhubarb Salsa
- Rhubarb Vinaigrette
- Bourbon Roasted Rhubarb with Cream Anglaise
One-Stop Rhubarb Recipe Collections:
- Rhubarb Central Recipe Collection
- Savor the Rhubarb Recipe Collection
- Rhubarb Round-Up on Minnesota Locavore
Likewise, there are a lot of ways you can put up rhubarb to enjoy this early season favorite last all year long! Rhubarb can be frozen, dried, canned, jammed, pickled, fermented, boozed, and infused.
On Sweet Domesticity:
- Strawberry Rhubarb Jalapeno Spread
- Vanilla Rhubarb Jam
- Pickled Rhubarb with Ginger
- Rhubarb Fruit Leather with Strawberries, Honey, + Cinnamon
- Rhubarb Ketchup
Other Collections of Rhubarb Preservation Ideas:
Rhubarb Happy Hour
Rhubarb’s tart flavor lends itself to a wide variety of cocktails. Start with some of these basic recipes and the mixology possibilities are endless:
More Rhubarb Love
For those of you who now have at least half a dozen new tabs open in your browser, be sure to follow the Rhubarb Love Pinterest Board for easy pinning and to be sure you catch any future rhubarb posts + resources!