|Rhubarb in bloom.|
I've grown rhubarb in wet years, dry years, hot years, and cold years. It keeps coming back like a loyal puppy. Last year I potted a few plants that popped up outside the confines of my designated rhubarb zone (If you let it flower and go to seed, you'll be rewarded by many new plants.) I had intended on transplanting them to a new bed, but never found the time to make it happen. They sat in their quart-size plastic pots through the winter -- unprotected, unwatered, and ignored. In the spring as prairie grass grew up around them, they were forgotten. Still in the pots, I literally stumbled upon them at the beginning of the summer and saw that all three of the plants were alive and thriving, better than could be expected.
They now have new home next to the three rhubarb "Victoria" that I actually paid for this spring. My six plants will now provide more stalks than I'll ever be able to use, but I figure any plant that survives after such abuse deserves a place in my garden.
Rhubarb is well adapted for survival. It prefers well-drained, amended soil, but just about any plot will do. Water and fertilize as you would normally, but don't dote over it. The long taproot dives deep into the soil and ensures moisture and nutrients when drought may be occurring on the surface. Even a neglected plant can thrive, as I've demonstrated.
A perennial plant, it's ready for harvest early in the year at about the same time you're beginning to think about sowing your vegetable garden in the spring. Treat it nicely and you'll be rewarded by a second harvest in late summer or early fall. The leaves are poisonous so discard them; they're great for your compost pile. The stalks that can range from green to mottled pink to crimson red are very edible. Most people would not recommend eating them raw, however. Rhubarb is quite tart and has an astringent effect on your mouth; you'll be puckering for days.
It tastes best when cooked and mixed with another fruit or vegetable. Sugar works miracles and you can find many recipes online for standards like strawberry-rhubarb pie, rhubarb candy, and many other desserts. I like to juice the stalks and make a rhubarb jelly. It has a unique taste that is very pleasant. Rhubarb ice cream is also pretty tasty.
Like the tomato, rhubarb had its day in court. Though technically a vegetable, legally it is a fruit for purposes of regulation and taxes. So it's easy to talk about. Call it a fruit or a vegetable and you'll be right.
It does require a little planning when you decide to plant it. The leaves grow quite large and take up a good amount of space. And because it comes back every year, you'll want to place it in a section of garden dedicated to rhubarb and rhubarb only; it doesn't do as well when crowded out by weeds or other plants. It's quite attractive and can also be used as a landscape plant outside your vegetable garden.
If you've ever struggled trying to grow something, try rhubarb. It will make any gardener a successful gardener.