Last updated on March 23rd, 2022
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Rhubarb is a plant that is actually a vegetable. It is very easy to grow and is mostly used for desserts because of its wonderful flavour. As long as you know when to pick rhubarb, you can make a multitude of delicious foods and desserts year after year.
Harvest your rhubarb as early as February by forcing, and March without forcing
You can get early cultivars of rhubarb that can be picked around March or April, with the later main crop cultivars suitable for being picked around late April to May and you can harvest them until July and August.
You can even get an earlier crop by forcing rhubarb using large buckets or rhubarb forcers so it’s ready 2-3 weeks earlier. You can learn more about forcing rhubarb in this detailed article by clicking here.
The rest of this article will explain in detail when to pick rhubarb so that you know exactly when it’s ripe, and how and when you can use it in your kitchen.
When is the right time to pick rhubarb?
Figuring out when your rhubarb is ready to harvest is as simple as walking out and checking on your plant. Technically the rhubarb is ripe throughout the spring and summer, although there are still certain times that you should harvest to get the best sweet tasting crop.
Pick rhubarb when stalks are 25-30cm long
You want to pick your rhubarb when the stalks on the leaves are at least 25-30cm long. This will guarantee that the plant has time to established itself enough so that the plants will survive the harvest. That’s really what it all boils down to, making sure that you are able to cut away some of your rhubarb for consumption without truly damaging the plants and preventing it from coming back, which is what overharvesting does.
If you take some of the rhubarb before it reaches this length, you want to limit how much you harvest so that you only take one or two stalks at a time without killing the plant. For those people who want to use a lot of rhubarb for things like jams and pies, it is best to grow multiple plants so that you can rotate the harvesting of stalks going between one and the other.
When to take the last crop
Equally important is knowing when you should stop harvesting your rhubarb. Technically you can continue picking it all the way through autumn but your rhubarb plant needs to store energy to protect itself over winter and if you continue to harvest through the summer without cutting back, your plant won’t be able to store enough energy to make it through the winter and it can be damaged because of frost.
So it’s best to slow down or stop your harvesting at the end of July or the beginning of August to give your plant enough time to prepare itself.
Rhubarb when newly planted shouldn’t be harvested. You want to wait at least two years before you start harvesting your plant so that it has ample opportunity to establish itself. The goal is, of course, to help it survive year after year so that you can keep picking away and making your favourite desserts.
How to Harvest
There are two ways that you can harvest. The first is to use a sharp knife to simply cut them off as close to the crown as possible once they reach the appropriate length. The second is to just pull each stalk gently to one side or the other until it breaks off the plant at a natural breaking point at the base.
Again, you don’t want to harvest every single stalk from your plant all at once. Only every harvest up to 50% of the stalks at one time.
Always remove the leaves and put them in your compost bin before you prepare anything with the rhubarb. The leaves are poisonous.
Now you know when to pick rhubarb and how to do it correctly, you can harvest your rhubarb and enjoy a tasty treat year after year.
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