How and When to Harvest Rhubarb

By: Julie Day
Rhubarb plant sprouting in spring garden

Rhubarb plant sprouting in spring garden.

How do you know when to harvest rhubarb? –Rick

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable grown for its wonderful, tart leafstalks. The key to growing rhubarb is to get a good harvest without damaging the plant for next year.

Here are some tips for harvesting rhubarb:

  • Harvest in Spring: Rhubarb is primarily harvested in spring and early summer (just in time for strawberry-rhubarb pie!). The stalks are crisp and tastier early in the season; as summer progresses rhubarb stalks can get woody and tough.
  • Pace Yourself: Never remove more than half the rhubarb plant each year. To keep the plant strong, it’s generally best to harvest just a few stalks at a time, as you need them, rather than doing a large harvest. Harvest the larger rhubarb stalks (a foot long or so), and leave the smaller ones to grow.
  • Stop in Summer: Stop harvesting by June, to give your rhubarb a rest. The plants need some time to grow and build up reserves and roots, to ensure a good harvest next year.
  • Start Slow: If you’ve just planted rhubarb, you shouldn’t harvest any this year. Next year, you can harvest for a week or two, and by year three you can have a normal 8-10 week harvest season.
  • Pull Stalks: The best way to harvest rhubarb is to grab the stalk and pull or twist it simultaneously down and sideways, until it snaps off. If you prefer to cut yours with a knife, be extremely careful not to nick the adjoining stalks. Promptly remove and compost the leaves – they contain poisonous oxalic acid and shouldn’t be eaten.

Julie

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