Harvesting Rhubarb

The hardy nature of rhubarb makes this perennial vegetable a sure-fire success in any garden. Rhubarb is a particularly easy vegetable to grow and needs very little maintenance apart from regular watering, a little compost and effective pest control. Harvesting rhubarb is also a simple task that should be undertaken as soon as the growing season is over.

Step 1–Picking the right moment

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of harvesting rhubarb is knowing the right moment to take out a full crop. During the summer months, rhubarb is effectively ripe for most of the season. This means that a couple of very small harvests can take place in quantities of a couple of stalks, but carrying out a full harvest too early can reduce the amount of rhubarb you'll get over the course of the summer.

Harvesting can carry through until the fall in small quantities, although familiarising yourself with the end of the growing season will safeguard the future of the plant for many more seasons to come.

Step 2–End of Season

The best time to begin your harvest will be in late summer. The best indication of the end of a growing season is to carry out a visual inspection of the plant. Fully ripe rhubarb should be harvested when the stalks of the leaves reach a minimum of 10 inches in length. The stalks should be a sold dark pink colour. This indicates a firmly established plant that will withstand a full harvest without jeopardising it for the following year. Decrease or stop harvesting in early July so that the plant can store energy reserves to carry it through the winter. Newly grown plants should never be harvested in the first year of growth.

Step 3–Harvesting your Crop

Although harvesting can take place gradually, the formula for taking rhubarb from the ground is consistent at all times. A moderately sharp knife can be used and the vegetable should be harvested by cutting stalks close to the base. Ideally, the stalks should be gently pulled and twisted to ensure a clean break at the base.  Pulling removes the perfect amount of rhubarb and also provides invigoration for the roots.  Always try to use the pull-and-twist method instead of cutting with a knife.

Step 4–Remove the Leaves

Removing all the leaves is vital and this should be done as quickly as possible. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid and are poisonous, so cut leaves away from the stalk and dispose of them. Young plants on their second cycle should have no more than two stalks pulled each season. Subsequent years will allow you to remove up to 4 stalks as long as an equal amount remains on the plant.

Step 5–Usage

After a harvest, rhubarb should be used as quickly as possible to enjoy the stalk at its best.  Once prepared, the vegetable is ideal for freezing and is a firm winter favourite when served with hot custard.