When Rhubarb Season Rolls Around
It's rhubarb season when the stalks are thick, long, and crimson, and the leaves are dark green and have become quite large. Ironically, the less appealing, and therefore less popular green stalked varieties are actually considered to have a more robust flavor, and one gets a larger harvest of stalks from a green rhubarb plant. For most of us though, deep crimson always seems best, or at least most like we expect rhubarb to be.
Rhubarb is a cool season crop, growing rapidly during the spring, with rhubarb season, or time to harvest, usually occurring in late April or May. In some areas a second rhubarb season comes later in the year, usually early July. Hothouse varieties may appear on the grocer's shelves earlier in the spring. In that sense, in the more temperate climates, rhubarb season can be said to last nearly 6 months as the stalks, once ready to harvest, can be left on the plant for a month or two, often until late summer. In warmer climates the plant can sometimes be harvested most months of the year.
Strictly speaking, the rhubarb plant is a vegetable. We often think of it as a fruit when it cooked and eaten in rhubarb pie or as rhubarb sauce, and it is even called a fruit by the US Department of Agriculture, though not for botanical reasons (it really is a vegetable) but for tax reasons!
Fun To Grow - Rhubarb is a fun plant to have in the garden. Not only is it an easy plant to grow, but it grows rapidly once it gets started. The rhubarb plant is a very hardy perennial and does not require a great deal of care. It shouldn't be totally neglected though, but once in awhile plants with good sized stalks are found in garden areas which have been abandoned for years.
Normally, if unattended, the stalks on the plant will become thinner and lest robust as the years pass, so it's a good idea to trim back the roots or divide the plant about every 4 years. A single plant can become several large plants in a matter of a few years, with each plant providing plenty of stalks. The leaves by the way are toxic, but one would have to eat several pounds of leaves to feel any ill effects, something unlikely as the leaves have a tart, bitter taste and are not considered palatable.
Got A Whiskey Barrel? - If you live in a temperate climate and don't like the idea of rhubarb season not getting into full swing until late spring or early summer, the plant takes well to being forced as an indoor plant. A fairly large container will be needed. Rhubarb will grow in a small pot but if that is the case will not produce much in the way of useful crop. If you want a substantial indoor crop of rhubarb, something like a half whiskey barrel would be a good container.
A Very Hardy Plant - If you grow the plant out of doors the root system will easily withstand subzero temperatures during the winter months. In fact the plant is at its best in the spring when the winters have been fairly cold, rather than mild. If temperatures are expected to drop to minus 20 degrees, or more, a mulch over the roots is a good idea, more so to keep the roots from drying out than to keep them warm.
In today's vegetable gardens one doesn't see rhubarb plants all that much. Perhaps it's because rhubarb is a perennial, and our mind set is more directed towards tilling the soil and starting annuals each spring. But it never hurts to have a few perennials, such as chives, horseradish, asparagus, and rhubarb, around the perimeter of the garden.