TIME FOR SOME PIE OR JELLY…
Rhubarb grows well in Indiana; it thrives in climates with winters below 40°F and summers which are in the 80°F range. It grows best in a sunny, slightly acidic soil which drains well. Because it is perennial (it comes back year after year), it needs to be planted where a tiller will not accidentally damage the dormant crowns!
Location: Each crown needs a 3’ x 3’ growing space. Crowns remain productive for 5 to 15 years; when the stems become spindly, divide and replant the crowns the following spring. Be sure each piece replanted is at least the size of your fist, with a “bud”. Some people find that planting in a location which is shaded for part of the hottest hours in the day is beneficial.
Planting: Before planting your rhubarb, remove all weeds and loosen the soil in a 12”x12”x12” hole. Add compost, peat, or other organic matter to the existing soil. Cover the crown with no more than 1” of soil; rotting is the most likely cause of failure when growing rhubarb! A raised bed is helpful, because rhubarb cannot tolerate a wet site.
Growing: Insects and disease are rarely significant problems with rhubarb. Fertilize with 1 cup of an all-purpose dry fertilizer like Espoma GardenTone, and water well. A mulch of straw or other clean organic matter will help keep the weeds down and conserve moisture. Keep plants irrigated, especially the first year, and fertilize again in midsummer – rhubarb is a heavy feeder! If seed clusters develop, remove them promptly; they will sap the strength of the plant as they mature.
Harvesting: Do not harvest stalks the first year. Early each spring, add a cup of fertilizer to the surface of the soil surrounding the crown. The second year, harvest very lightly (the plant is still getting established). From the third year on, stalks may be harvested from May through June. Stop harvesting when new stalks emerge that are thinner than the earlier stalks, and never harvest more than half the stalks from a plant. The remaining stalks are necessary to help the crown thrive.
When harvesting, cut stalks with a knife at the base of the plant, or grasp the stalk at its base and pull it slightly to the side. Do not eat the leaves; they contain significant levels of oxalic acid and are considered poisonous! Cut stalks can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 weeks; store in the crisper drawer for best results.
Preparing: Use either stainless steel or enamel-coated cast iron pans to cook rhubarb; the acidity in the stalks will react to aluminum, copper or iron and cause the pieces to turn brown. Or try roasting! Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar and roast at 400° for 13-15 minutes to keep color and texture at their peak.