This is what I received this week…some rhubarb crowns ready for planting. I have been obsessing about planting rhubarb, also know as rheum rhabarbarum, here on Glen Road for quite some time. I’m sure it has to do with wanting to grow something that reminds me of my youth. You must all know at this point that my Grandma was a great gardening inspiration in my life. My Father was also inspirational, but due to my close relationship with Grandma, she brought me slowly into the process and let me get into the garden when I wanted to do it. She slowly made me value it. You know how it goes with parents…they want to bring you into it, but many times you feel forced and then you end up crying and rebelling and not wanting to do it. I guess that is the sad story of all teenage angst…sorry Dad and Mom. I’ve talked about her horseradish a few times, but my Grandma also had a killer rhubarb patch. We ate a lot of rhubarb in Spring…rhubarb sauce, rhubarb pie….all of it so fresh and so tasty. There were times my brother and I would snap off a stalk and chew on the tangy sweet and sour fruit in her backyard. Do any of you remember the Schwann’s man? In our town in Iowa, the Schwann’s man drove a pinkish peach truck up the road and you could stop him and buy frozen items. Grandma bought pizza dough and ice cream. In the Spring, she scooped this ice cream into whatever rhubarb creation she had made for the night. How great was that?
So I wanted to plant a rhubarb patch for a long time and this year, I got my wish. I planted six crowns this weekend in some well-drained soil. The patch was in a location that received full sun, just behind the two espalier apple trees. I set the crowns about a foot apart, which is a little tight, but I’m sure they will be fine. I watered the crowns very well and then placed a little over one inch of soil on top of them. Then I firmly tamped down the soil to prevent any dry pockets from forming around the tender crowns.
There will be no harvest this first year. During the second year, there may be a light harvest, actually a few stalks (botanically, actually petioles) per plant. In subsequent years, all stalks one inch or more in diameter may be harvested for six to eight weeks. The harvest period is from May to June. Some harvesting in Fall is acceptable if we feel the urge. However, smaller stalks should be left to make food for the crowns and next year’s production. We will harvest by snapping or cutting the stalks at the base. We need to remember to remove seed stalks to encourage additional stalks in the next year. What I also know is that rhubarb leaves from un-harvested stalks are quite beautiful. Don’t be afraid to plant them in a prominent spot in your garden given their beauty.
After three to five years, we will need to divide the crowns to maintain stalk size and production. A well-maintained patch will last 10-15 years or longer. That sounds like such a long time, but as my Grandma used to say, time goes by much quicker the older you get. Here’s to a few stalks next year. Do you grow rhubarb in your garden?