Although often thought of as a fruit, rhubarb is in fact a vegetable. Fresh rhubarb is available in Wisconsin from May through late June and thanks to the fluctuating spring weather we’ve had, some growers are a little behind. Kathy Bures, owner of Bures Berry Patch in Barneveld, says they are a week behind compared to where they were last year. She provides some insight into what it takes to grow rhubarb and shares some of her favorite recipes to incorporate it.
Rhubarb grows best in sunny well-drained soil and a healthy plant will remain productive for over ten years. For that reason, rhubarb should be planted in its own space in any corner of the garden where it can grow undisturbed.
“Good drainage is also important when growing rhubarb as if kept too wet, it can rot,” says Bures. “We work horse manure into the ground to get a good balance of organic matter in the soil to help with this.”
Bures had a slow start to the growing season but says that things have picked up now that temperatures are staying higher and they’re officially in their peak rhubarb season. They sell at many farmers markets however since many people may have it growing in their yard or have neighbors that do, they have to make sure to sell in the correct markets in order to still make a profit.
To help with insect and weed control, Bures uses straw mulch on the bed of rhubarb. This also helps protect the plant by helping to prevent insects from crawling up and residing on the plant matter itself.
“You want to wait until the stems are about eight to fifteen inches long before you harvest the rhubarb,” explains Bures. “To harvest, you just put your hand at the base of the stem and you twist and pull it at the same time and the stock just kind of lets go from the plant; no tools necessary.”
When it comes to cooking with rhubarb, it doesn’t really matter if it’s red or green. The important thing to look for is freshness by making sure it looks bright and crisp. If you’re not going to eat it right away, it’s important to keep it wrapped in the bag and in your fridge for one to two weeks.
“Oftentimes recipes I’m using may call for slices so I will freeze the slices in the quantity that each dessert may need so it’s ready to go when I am,” says Bures. “We at Bures Berry Patch love Flo’s Rhubarb Bar Dessert which is a shortbread crust with rhubarb and powdered jello with a sugar crumb topping.”
Since the leaves are toxic to consume, Bures says to avoid harvesting rhubarb right after a frost as that toxin in the leaves will travel down to the stem on cold cold nights. After harvesting, the leaves can be used back in the bed of rhubarb as it is a great wee suppressor.