Pros: beautiful plants, rhubarb with red stalks, delicious, easy to grow and maintain
Cons: plants can grow large, leaves are poisonous to eat (stalks are edible)
I can remember my grandfather complaining he couldn't kill the stuff (he hated rhubarb; my grandmother loved it). The rhubarb-loving gene traveled to me. I have a large bed of it in the garden, and my favorite variety is Canada Red Rhubarb.
A distinction of Canada Red is the almost pure red stalk. Some rhubarb stalks are a mix of green and red. Canada Red is just what the name says; it is a beautiful deep red color. Slice the stalk to see a lighter color inside. The deep red color stays, too, even after baking.
These perennial plants need some elbow room. The large green leaves make it look like a jungle plant, and the plants spread about 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall. Plant them in a location where you don't mind them growing year after year. Canada Red grows well in northern climates, too. It usually begins sprouting in April and can be picked into July.
Note: Only eat the rhubarb stalks. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous!
I have been growing rhubarb for years in my Massachusetts garden. The main variety I cultivate is Canada Red, though I do have a few Valentine plants, and a variety purchased so long ago that no one in the family can remember what its name is.
The Canada Red plants are beautiful with their deep red stalks and huge green leaves. The original plants came from a local nursery. Since then, the rhubarb has propagated itself. New plants periodically appear in the garden. On occasion, I have tried to split large plants, replanting one of the halves to a new location. I don't have much luck splitting a plant and having the re-planted portion survive. My best success with replanting is when I am able to retrieve a large portion of root so that each plant has a healthy root system.
Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders. In late March or early April (before the plants begin to sprout), I buy three or four bags of composted cow manure from a local garden center. Make sure you buy "composted" cow manure, though, or your garden will end up filled with weeds. I liberally spread the composted cow manure over the rhubarb bed, using a rake to smooth it out.
My plants begin showing activity in April. Once I have the cow manure spread, I let the plants do their own thing. I keep them watered, and they are happy. If the plants develop flower stalks, I remove them. Producing flowers takes energy away from the plant. (Note: if you are planting new rhubarb, wait a year before harvesting from the plants. This gives the plants time to establish themselves.)
Another consideration is that as the rhubarb grows and ages during the season, the long stalks on the plant will begin to droop. So don't plant it near something you don't want covered. In the autumn, as the plants die back, I cover them with raked leaves from the yard. There are years where I haven't had time to cover the plants, and they survived the winter okay.
Harvesting is simple. Make sure to leave plenty of stalks for the plant to survive as you harvest. Rhubarb stalks can either be pulled or cut from the plant. It may take a bit of practice, but a firm twist at the base of the stalk with a pulling motion should separate the stalk from the plant. If you prefer, you can also cut the stalks free at the base of the plant. As I remove the rhubarb stalks, I lop off the large leaves and spread them out in the garden, overlapping the leaves. The leaves are so large that they act as a form of "black plastic" smothering whatever is beneath them ... a good weed deterrent. And even though the leaves are poisonous to eat, I have never had any harm come by handling them. I just make sure to wash my hands when I'm finished in the garden.
This rhubarb has been pest resistant for me. I never have a problem with it. If anything, the only nibbling I've seen on the stalks comes from the occasional snail.
What Do You Do with Rhubarb?
Eat it! Seriously, though, rhubarb stalks can be consumed either raw or cooked. My mother tells me she used to pick rhubarb straight from her mother's garden to eat it. I prefer to eat rhubarb baked in various dishes.
After the rhubarb stalks are picked, wash them. The Canada Red stalks are easy to clean with a rinse of water. Most of the dishes I make with rhubarb require sliced rhubarb stalks. Canada Red stalks do not need to be peeled. You can slice them exactly as they are. I usually cut my rhubarb pieces in 1/2" to 3/4" slices.
Most people are probably familiar with rhubarb pie. Each pie uses about 4 cups of rhubarb and 1 1/2 cups of white sugar. Rhubarb pies can also include other fruit such as strawberries or apples. If using another fruit with the rhubarb, often the sugar amount can be reduced.
My favorite use of rhubarb is in Rhubarb Streusel Bread. This is a quick-bread recipe, meaning it does not require yeast or rising. Just mix the ingredients, pour them into a loaf pan, top with a bit of streusel mix, and bake it. The bread is delicious!
Rhubarb is also great in cakes, cobblers, and muffins. It can be used in sauces, jellies, jams, soups, and there are even recipes for rhubarb wine. If you want recipes, just use Google and search for rhubarb recipes.
I also freeze rhubarb in plastic tubs (Ziploc, Gladware) in 2-cup amounts. I clean and slice the rhubarb as usual and pack the containers. It's best to use plasticware the proper size so that there is not much extra air space. The rhubarb keeps well for at least six months. Before using it, let it thaw for a bit. It tastes great in baked goods!
It's been awhile since I purchased my Canada Red rhubarb. I see that Jung Seed sells bare roots for $7.95 each (plant them in the spring). Discounts are offered if purchasing three or more.
Not only is the Canada Red variety of rhubarb attractive, but it tastes great. I have no trouble growing and harvesting it, either. The plants have been pest resistant, and furry critters don't nibble them. My Canada Red plants have been producing for years, and I expect they'll keep providing excellent crops for a long time.
I hope you found this review useful.
Enjoy the day,
Please read my other reviews:
Composted Cow Manure
Seeds: French Breakfast Radish, Small Sugar Pumpkin, Ace Red & Green Peppers, Matina Tomato
Cucumber Seed: Marketmore Cucumber, Spacemaster Cucumber
Squash Seed: Zucchini Italiano Largo, Zephyr Squash, Gadzukes Zucchini
Bean Seed: Purple Beans, Soleil Yellow Beans
Unusual Plants: Egyptian Walking Onions, Jerusalem Artichokes
Deluxe Pyramid Composter
Upside-Down Tomato Garden
Black & Decker Cordless Battery Mulching Lawnmower
Copyright 2009 Dawn L. Stewart