When To Harvest Rhubarb And How To Harvest Rhubarb

When To Harvest Rhubarb And How To Harvest Rhubarb

By: Heather Rhoades

Rhubarb is a plant grown by braver gardeners who know the wonderful flavor of this unusual and often difficult to find plant. But, a new rhubarb grower may have questions like, “How to tell when rhubarb is ripe?” and “When to harvest rhubarb?” Keep reading to learn more about harvesting rhubarb.

When to Harvest Rhubarb

How to tell when rhubarb is ripe is as easy as walking out to the plant. To be honest, rhubarb is “ripe” all spring and summer. But for the health of the plant, there are certain times that you should make your rhubarb harvest.

The best time when to harvest rhubarb is when the stalks of the leaves reach at least 10 inches (25 cm.) long. This will ensure that the plant has established itself well enough for the year to be able to tolerate being harvested. You can take some of the rhubarb stalks earlier than this, but limit your rhubarb harvest to just a few stalks so that you do not kill the plant.

Knowing when to harvest rhubarb also means knowing when the season is over. While technically, you can keep harvesting rhubarb until fall, keep in mind that your rhubarb plant needs to store energy for the winter. Significantly slow or stop your rhubarb harvest in late June or early July so that your rhubarb plant can build up energy stores to make it through the winter. Again, it can be picked until the frost, but do so sparingly or you risk killing the plant.

Also, if your rhubarb is newly planted, you will want to wait two years before taking a full rhubarb harvest from the plant. This will ensure the plant is sufficiently established.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Harvesting rhubarb isn’t difficult either. There are two ways how to harvest rhubarb. One is to use a sharp knife or shears to cut off stalks that are at least 10 inches (25 cm.) or longer. The second is to gently pull the stalk while gently leaning it to one side until the stalk breaks off from the plant. Never harvest all the stalks off your rhubarb plant.

After you cut the stalks from the plant, cut the leaves from the stalk and throw them in the compost bin. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are poisonous and should never be eaten.

That is all there is to harvesting rhubarb. Now that you know when and how to harvest rhubarb, you can enjoy these tasty stalks in a wide variety of recipes.

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How to Harvest and Store Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of the first crops of the year the plant springs to life when temperatures rise into the 40sF begin the rhubarb harvest as soon as stalks are ready.

Stems harvested in early spring will be the most tender and flavorful. (Rhubarb is naturally tart and is commonly coupled with strawberries.) Do not wait for stalks to get too big around (or too mature)—they can be pithy and tough especially when hit by hot weather or drought. (Pithy stems can be used for stewing, sauces, and jams.)

Harvest rhubarb by grasping the stalk firmly near the base then pull and twist gently.

The Right Way to Harvest Rhubarb in 3 Steps

Rhubarb, with its delicious edible leaf stalks loaded with a tangy yet sweet, crisp flavor, often serves as the perfect companion for strawberries or as the main ingredient in pies, jams and jellies. These tasty cool-weather veggies are great additions to any edible garden.

Fresh rhubarb after the harvest. Photo credit: Sonja Dahlgren, gettyimages

Here are a few tips on how to harvest rhubarb:
Plant new or established:Rhubarb, if newly planted, should not be harvested the first year, to help the plant establish itself. Wait a year or two before you begin to harvest.
Check if it is “ripe”: The first step is to make sure the plant is ready to be harvested. This is relatively easy to do. The best time to harvest is from spring to early summer—usually April to June. Although they can be picked into early fall, you want to make sure that you stop collecting the yummy stalks well before the last frost, to help ensure that the plant makes it through winter. The best stalks to harvest should be at least 10 to 15 inches long. You can keep harvesting from your plant, roughly 8 to 10 weeks, for rhubarb established more than four years and 1 to 3 weeks for less. Make sure to leave some stalks—usually a third to near half of the plant—to help your rhubarb recover. This way you can have a bountiful yield from the same plant for many years to come!
How to harvest: Gently grab near the base of the desired stalk and slowly pull and twist. It is as simple as that! Sometimes the stalk may be resistant to break away and you might need a pair of gardening shears to help coax the stalk away from the base. Make sure to cut the leaves off the stalks and discard them they are poisonous and should never be consumed.

Once harvested, you can enjoy these scrumptious veggies by adding them to your favorite recipes!

Photo credit: Sonja Dahlgren, gettyimages
Discover everything there is to know about edible gardening with the Horticulture Smart Gardening Guides: Guide to Growing Edibles.

Want delicious and nutritious edibles, perfect for summer meals? Check out the Plan Easy Summer Meals From the Garden Value Pack.

Make sure your vegetable garden is growing strong and healthy with the Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook.

Whether you are a beginner learning to grow edibles or an expert wanting to feed your family, How to Grow More Vegetables will help you grow strong veggies in high yields.

When to plant rhubarb?

In short, fall or early spring.

If you missed your first chance, simply take the next one.

But, you will need to exercise some patience. Plant rhubarb among your other fruits and vegetables, because it will be more than a year before your first harvest! And up to four years before a full rhubarb harvest.

Until then, sample a few stalks sparingly each season to let your rhubarb focus its attention on underground growth.

You don’t even need to fuss too much over your rhubarb. Once it decides that it really likes a location, your reliable and bountiful harvests are guaranteed.

If too much rhubarb becomes your problem (that is a wonderful problem to have), you can always divide your crowns and sell them for a little extra cash, give them as gifts, or make and trade/barter rhubarb jam.

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How to Harvest

The only tools you need are your own two hands. While you can technically use a garden knife, stalks are often so close together that you might accidentally slice into a petiole you didn’t mean to nick.

If you do choose to use a knife, find the bottom of the petiole with your hand, pull it away from the other stalks, and gently cut downward.

Or, take the easier and safer route of simply gripping the middle of the stalk with both hands and then twisting and pulling at the same time.

The end of the stalk will have a tapered, papery portion.

Go ahead and cut that off.

While you’re at it, snip the leaves off, too, and take them to your compost pile – or the garbage.

Just make sure they stay out of reach of children and animals, as the leaves are toxic.

Preserving Stalks

By the time three or four years have passed since you first planted rhubarb, you’ll have so much that you probably won’t be able to use it all at once.

Freshly picked rhubarb will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about a week as long as it’s kept in a zip top bag or other airtight container. If you just stick it in the fridge as is, it’ll dry out.

To keep rhubarb around even longer, freeze it!

All you have to do is slice the stalks into one-inch pieces, set them on parchment paper, and place them in the freezer until they’re firm.

Then move them to date-marked freezer bags, where they’ll keep in your freezer for up to a year.

What To Do If Rhubarb Bolts

You can usually catch seed heads before they turn into full-on flowers. They’ll usually emerge from the base of the plant, green and bulbous.

The stalks that seed heads grow on are usually tougher than edible stems, so you’ll need to take a sharp knife and cut them as close to the base of the plant as possible.

This is the case whether you catch the seed head in its early stages or you end up needing to remove a tall stalk with several seed heads.

If you let your plant go to flower, the edible stems will taste the same and your plant will still live for many more years.

But since all the energy is poured into creating seeds, you won’t get to pick nearly as many stalks.

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