Mention the word rhubarb to a true Midwesterner and you will see a starry-eyed look and a big silly grin on their face. I did not grow up eating rhubarb, so I really don’t understand this love affair with the stalky red vegetable. I remember my very first spring in Wisconsin after moving here from California. It was a lot like this year, a cold winter followed by a long cold, rainy spring. When the sun finally warmed up I was dazzled by all the rhubarb desserts that showed up at the SHARE potlucks. Now I know that, for Midwesterners, eating rhubarb is an important seasonal ritual.
When Mike and I moved to Richfield our house came with a beautiful rhubarb patch. As inexperienced as I was with it, I found growing rhubarb pretty simple. I just wish I liked it better– I give most of it away! However, I do make at least one rhubarb dessert each year, just to strengthen my Midwestern experience. I’ve included my recipe for Rhubarb-Apple Crisp in this post.
Here are just a few important tips to keep your rhubarb coming on strong, year after year.
- Your rhubarb patch will enjoy a dose of fertilizer that’s high in organic matter, like compost or well-rotted manure. Fertilize early in spring when the ground is thawed enough to work it in.
- Harvest stalks when they are strong and red by grasping a stalk close to the base and gently, but firmly, pulling it up. Pulling, rather than cutting, helps the plant continue to produce. Harvest when the stalks are young and tender. Older stalks tend to get stringy and tough.
- The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous to people and pets, so discard those. It’s ok to put
them in your compost pile.
- To keep the plant producing, remove the seed stalk as soon as it appears. Again, grasp the stalk near the base and pull it out.
- Rhubarb likes cooler weather. If it gets too hot and the stalks look floppy it may need more water.
- In the fall, clear away and spent leaves. Once the ground freezes cover with a good mulch, like shredded leaves or covering hay.
- You can divide rhubarb when it first comes up in spring. I’ve never done this, but maybe next year I’ll give it a try!