Understanding the when and how of harvesting rhubarb as a beginner sets you up with a long-term supply of this rich and tart-flavored vegetable.
Harvesting Rhubarb Basics
When to Harvest Rhubarb?
Like other crops, the best time to harvest your rhubarb is when it's ripe and ready. While an experienced farmer can quickly tell when this is, most beginners cannot hence need clear pointers.
Rhubarb is generally “ripe” all spring through summer. However, there are specific times when farmers should start harvesting rhubarb for the sake of the plant's health.
Therefore, the best time to harvest rhubarb is when the leave stalks have reached at least 25 cm long – roughly 10 inches. Harvesting rhubarb at this time ensures that you have given the plant ample time to establish itself well in the growing year to tolerate being harvested.
Equally important as knowing when to harvest rhubarb is learning when the harvesting season is over. This, too, is for the plant's survival's sake, especially during harsh weather.
While you can extend your rhubarb harvest to fall, do so sparingly since your rhubarb plant will need to store up tons of energy to stand a chance of surviving winter. Therefore, slow down or stop harvesting your rhubarb in late June through early July so that the plant has enough time to build up energy stores to survive the winter.
Reminder: If your rhubarb garden is newly planted, wait at least two years before taking a full harvest from the plants. It ensures that the plants are sufficiently established.
Note: You can harvest some rhubarb stalks earlier than when they reach 10 inches, as long as you limit your harvest to a few stalks so as not to kill the plant.
Also, you can pick your rhubarb until the frost, as long as you do so sparingly.
How to Harvest Rhubarb?
Harvesting rhubarb doesn't get easier than either one of these two ways:
- Firstly, pull off the stalks while gently leaning each to one side until you have broken off all the stalks you need from the plant.
- The second method entails using a sharp garden knife or shears to snip off stalks that have reached at least 10 inches or longer.
If you choose to use a garden knife, use one hand to find the bottom of each stalk's petiole, pull it away from the rest of the stalks, and cut it downwards. It ensures that you do nick a stem that is not ready for harvesting yet since the stalks are often close together.
After harvesting the rhubarb stalks, snip off the leaves and throw them in the compost or garbage pile. This keeps the poisonous rhubarb leaves out of the reach of children, pets, and animals.
- Refrain from harvesting any rhubarb stalks during the first year of growing so that your plants establish themselves first.
- Usually, the harvest period will run eight to ten weeks long after three years. However, if the rhubarb stalks start to thin out during this time, stop harvesting as this means the plants have low food reserves.
- If you choose to harvest your rhubarb by hand, grab a stalk at its base, pull it away from the plant and give it a gentle twist. You can use sheers to cut the stalks at their base if twisting doesn't work.
- Always discard the rhubarb leaves to avoid poisoning accidents.
- Ensure you leave at least two stalks per plant after harvesting to ensure continued production. This way, you can expect a bountiful harvest each time for up to 20 years without replacing your rhubarb plants.
- After each harvest time, cut off any plant debris since the stems will more often than not die back.
- Cover your rhubarb with two to four inches of mulch, preferably well-rotted compost once the ground freezes. This adds nitrogen to the soil, hence preparing your rhubarb plants for a productive spring season.
- Store your harvested rhubarb in Ziplock bags to keep it fresh. Alternatively, dice and freeze to preserve it for an even more extended period.
Watch this video by David Domoney how to grow and harvest rhubarb:
That is all that goes into harvesting this tangy vegetable, homesteaders. Besides coming in handy in a wide variety of sauces, jams, tarts, and pies, you also stand to enjoy medicinal and cosmetic benefits from rhubarb. The trick is to harvest it right so you can enjoy t longer.
Do you have experience in growing rhubarb? What other helpful tips should we include here? Let us know in the comment section below!
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