Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow perennial that can live for 10-15 years or longer so consider your location carefully. Once established, rhubarb does not transplant well. A location in full sun that will get some afternoon shade is ideal for the Midwest area. Plant in early spring in well-drained, fertile soil. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder. For best results, plan on fertilizing every few weeks throughout the growing season. Space is also a consideration as plants have a 24” spread and grow to a height of 24-36”.
To maintain production throughout the summer cut back the flower stalks. Victoria will produce all season right up to frost if you keep it cropped and water it during dry weather. Mulching with straw will help retain vital moisture during the summer months. In fall, when stems die back, remove all plant debris. Mulch plants after the ground freezes, covering crowns with 2 to 4 inches of compost or leaves. Then in early spring, add an additional application of organic compost to boost early growth.
Do not harvest the first year. The second year, harvest lightly, a few stalks per plant. In subsequent years all stalks 1″ or more in diameter may be harvested for 6-8 weeks. Leave smaller stalks to make food for the crown and next year’s production. Crowns may be divided after 3-5 years.
When harvesting, gently pull the stem from the crown area of the root so you remove the stem’s base. Cutting off the stems with a knife leaves a stump to rot and may introduce damaging insects to the plant. By pulling off the entire stem, you’ll actually create a spot for more leaves to form, so you can maintain production throughout summer.
Stop harvesting as stems get shorter and thinner as plants are storing up energy for next year’s harvest. Mature plants typically provide an 8-10 week harvest of 2-3 pounds of stalks per mature plant per season.
Rhubarb, Victoria rheum rhabarbarum
Rhubarb culture –
Victoria Rhubarb is a classic, perennial, heirloom vegetable that was introduced in 1837 in honor of Queen Victoria. Sweeter and milder than other varieties, Victoria is the absolute best cooking type of rhubarb and symbolized the dessert cookery of Queen Victoria’s reign: rhubarb charlottes, rhubarb fools (similar to a parfait), rhubarb compotes, rhubarb tarts, even rhubarb wine. An early, abundant producer, Victoria rhubarb has large, tall and tender rosy-red stalks that lack the normal stringiness and superior tart flavor.
Although technically a vegetable, we Americans tend to view rhubarb as a fruit because our cooking has been shaped by the English sweet and sour desserts. Early spring stems offer the most flavor and tenderness and are most popularly known as an ingredient in jams, fruit tarts and pies; its typically tangy flavor tamed with sugar or sweet strawberries. Stems harvested later in the season can be pithy and are best used in soups and sauces. But in other countries, rhubarb is used in a wide range of savory dishes like Persian Lamb with Rhubarb, a middle eastern stew that can be served over rice or pasta.
The color and size of your plant depends on a number of factors. Rich soil combined with organic compost will give your rhubarb a boost in early spring which will help to intensify the red color and produce long stems. Adequate rainfall is also important for vibrant growth so watering during dry spells is important.
For the best results in cooking or freezing, use freshly harvested stalks. Cut stems will keep up to a week in the refrigerator although crispness will diminish with storage. You can refresh crispness by standing stored stems in water before using; however, the flavor will be slightly diluted. You can also chop stems and freeze the pieces in a plastic freezer bag for much later use.
Please note: rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid and cannot be eaten. The acid also is found in the edible stems, but it breaks down in the cooking process. The concentration in the leaves is high enough that they’re unsafe to eat, even cooked.