When to Harvest Rhubarb – Planting Guide 2021

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when to harvest rhubarb

While not as common as other garden staples, rhubarb is an amazing plant to grow, particularly because it is a perennial plant. Harvest rhubarb in one season and it will grow again the next, without having to plant any extra seeds. Find out the best way to harvest rhubarb so your garden becomes just a bit easier to maintain.

When to harvest rhubarb? Beginning in April and continuing to July, rhubarb will be ready to harvest. It has a large harvest period, around eight weeks, which means you can really savor this sweet vegetable. Look for stalks that are 12 to 18 inches long. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut the base of the stalks and discard the leaves.

Alternatively, you can pull and twist the stalks so they pop off right from the root. You can enjoy your rhubarb right away, keep it in the fridge for a few days, or freeze it for later use. Keep cutting off rhubarb stalks and more will grow throughout the season.

Then, in mid-summer, you will have to stop harvesting to have a break for your plant. Don’t worry, as your rhubarb will be back to producing tons of yummy stalks as the following year.

How do you know when your rhubarb is ready to harvest?

Ok, this next statement is going to disappoint you but it’s extremely important to know. You can’t actually harvest rhubarb until two to three years after you plant it.

Yes, you’re going to have to exercise some patience with this perennial plant. Otherwise, all the effort of actually planting rhubarb will go to waste.

The good news is that you only have to plant one rhubarb plant as it will continue to produce plenty of stalks after it is established.

Rhubarb needs time to grow and if you harvest it in its first year, it won’t produce more rhubarb the next year. Ideally, you should wait until the second year of growth, although if you can, the third year is even better.

However, after that third year there are no more limitations and you can harvest as much as you want year after year.

Once your plant is established, it’s time to know just when to harvest rhubarb. Start by looking at the stalks. They should be about 12 to 18 inches long and their diameter should be at least ¾ of an inch thick.

Too small or too thin and the stalks won’t have enough flavor or sweetness.

Interestingly, while we think of rhubarb as having a deep red, almost purple color, it can actually be different colors, depending on the variety. You should pay more attention to the length of the rhubarb than the color when deciding if it is ripe or not.

What happens if you don’t harvest rhubarb?

harvesting rhubarb

Overall, nothing bad will happen to your rhubarb plant if you decide not to harvest it. As it is a perennial, it will still come back the following year.

However, rhubarb has a very long harvest period that can last around eight weeks. There’s a good chance that at some point you or your neighbors will have some use for rhubarb.

One thing to consider is that your rhubarb plant should be harvested to avoid overcrowding. However, if you don’t get around to harvesting, it won’t be too detrimental to the plant.

Finally, even if your rhubarb plant still has stalked, come mid-summer you will want to stop harvesting it. While there was a myth that rhubarb becomes poisonous, this, thankfully, isn’t true.

The reason to stop harvesting rhubarb is that it eventually becomes woody in texture and bitter in taste. Furthermore, it takes a lot of energy and nutrients to continually produce edible stalks.

At some point, your plant will need a break so it can begin storing its nutrients for the following year. By the end of July, rhubarb season will be over.

How to harvest rhubarb?

The harvest period for rhubarb is a whopping eight to nine weeks long, so you can really enjoy rhubarb for quite a while. Rhubarb will be ready in late spring and continue to be ready to pick until mid-summer.

Once the rhubarb stalks are 12 to 18 inches tall, it’s time to start harvesting. This should be around May or June, depending on how warm your climate is.

How to harvest rhubarb is a bit of a debate, involving twisting versus cutting. Many expert gardeners have the ability to simply twist the plant but if you aren’t sure, cutting is still ok.

To twist the rhubarb stalk, hold firm to the base. Then, pull and twist at the same time. The result should be a stalk that pops off right from the root.

Cutting is an option but you want to cut right at the base. If parts of rhubarb stalks are left in the ground, this could actually lead to rot and disease within the whole plant.

For those interested in how to cut rhubarb, you will need a sharp knife for the task. A sharp knife will make the task much quicker and it is easier for beginner gardeners.  

Clean your knife thoroughly before cutting rhubarb. This is to prevent the spread of disease and to ensure a healthy rhubarb plant.

Take a firm hold of the base of the stalk you want to cut off. Then, cut at the base with your knife. Finally, cut off the top leaves of the stalk and either discard them or place them in your compost pile.

While you can certainly chop a lot of rhubarb, you want to ensure there are at least two stalks remaining on the plant. This will allow the plant to continue producing more of its edible stalks.

While you can certainly continue to cut off rhubarb stalks throughout the summer, once they start becoming thin, it’s time to stop. Thin stalks that are less than ¾ of an inch thick mean the plant doesn’t have enough nutrients to keep producing stalks.

You should then let the plant rest until next year where it will start to produce thick stalks again.

With proper care and a bit of luck, you could have a producing plant that lasts for up to 20 years.

Should you wash rhubarb after harvesting?

washing rhubarb after harvesting

No, you should not wash rhubarb after you harvest it. While fresh rhubarb can certainly be enjoyed right away, unless you are planning to eat it that afternoon, it’s best to wait until you actually use the rhubarb.

Too much moisture in your rhubarb will lead to sogginess and even rot. Instead, wrap the ends of rhubarb with a damp towel and place it in the fridge until you want to use it. Wrapped this way, rhubarb will last for days, if not weeks.

Can you eat rhubarb leaves?

We mentioned earlier about discarding rhubarb leaves. This is because they are actually toxic and if you ingest them, you could become sick.

If you come into contact with broken rhubarb leaves while in the process of harvesting the stalks, be sure to wash your hands right away.

You definitely should not eat rhubarb leaves as even cooked they could cause problems.

Can you eat rhubarb immediately after harvesting?

Yes, as soon as you harvest rhubarb you can enjoy it. Whether you want an afternoon snack or a scrumptious dessert, you can simply go in your backyard and cut off the amount of stalks you need.

Rhubarb is one of those foods that you may suddenly have an abundance of. If you are tired of rhubarb or want to enjoy it year-round, there are a few ways to preserve it.

The easiest is to freeze your rhubarb, and you can do so either raw, cooked, or blanched. The only consideration is that rhubarb will break down as it defrosts so it’s best to use it in baking or as a puree, rather than counting on the solid stalks for consumption.

To freeze raw rhubarb, simply cut the stalks into smaller pieces. Freeze these on their own and then place the pieces into freezer-safe containers.

To freeze cooked rhubarb, start by simmering it in a pan with a bit of extra sugar to decrease the tartness. Cook the rhubarb until it is tender, let it cool, and then portion it into freezer-safe containers.

Finally, if you want to freeze blanched rhubarb, start by boiling a large pot of water. Place rhubarb pieces into the water and leave them there for one minute.

Transfer the rhubarb to a bowl of water, then drain and leave to dry. Freeze the individual pieces and then place them together in a freezer-safe container.

Rhubarb will keep frozen for up to a year.

Conclusion

Whether you want a delicious rhubarb pie or some pureed rhubarb with your ice cream, you can have a tasty treat that is also high in antioxidants.

The beauty of rhubarb is that it is a perennial plant. Once it is established, you can continue to harvest rhubarb every year without worrying about having to plant more seeds.

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