It's always a good feeling when the rhubarb is ready for harvesting. We will get to enjoy fresh rhubarb from now through at least the end of July.
Even though rhubarb plants can withstand considerable neglect the plants will respond well to a little TLC -- tender loving care.
The plants should not be allowed to produce seed. When the plants devote energy to seed production, the development of leaf stalk is curtailed. Remove flower heads as soon as they appear.
Rhubarb needs lots of water. Water the soil often and don't allow it to become dry. Watering rhubarb plants should continue until fall.
According to our Extension publication, "Rhubarb Growing Made Easy," on light infertile soils, organic matter and commercial fertilizer should be worked into the soil at the rate of about three-fourths of a pound per plant. Additional fertilizer should be applied during mid-season at about one-fourth pound per plant. Mix the fertilizer thoroughly with the soil and avoid contact between the roots and fertilizer granules.
Remember when harvesting rhubarb, it is important to pull the stalk from the crown rather than cutting it. A cut can leave a stub that can become infected with fungus or bacterial rot. It is better for the long-term health of your rhubarb then to pull the stalks. It is easiest to pull up and to the side.
After pulling the stalks, cut off the leaves. The leaves are poisonous. They contain a harmful substance called oxalic acid. The leaves should not be used by humans for greens or fed to animals. The leaves provide a good source of organic matter in a compost pile.
When harvesting, leave at least one-third of the plant. This is adequate leaf cover for the plant to continue producing food for next year's healthy production.
Rhubarb needs lots of water. Water the soil often and never allow it to dry out. I read one source that encouraged watering the plant prior to harvesting.
For more information about growing rhubarb, request our free publication, "Rhubarb Growing Made Easy." Ideas for using rhubarb in desserts, jams and baked goods can be found in our cost publication, "Rhubarb Recipes."
Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.
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