For something so sour, rhubarb has been a sweet addition to Peace country tables ever since this land was first homesteaded. Of course, the Peace has only been homesteaded for less than a century, so maybe that?s not as impressive as it sounds.
One of my earliest memories is sitting outside in a swing with a giant stalk of rhubarb in one hand and a bowl of dipping sugar in the other. The sugar disappeared fast and the rhubarb stalk went slow, but the combination of sweet and sour made for a delightful taste sensation.
Rhubarb breezes through 40 below winters with ease, exploding out of the ground at the first hint of spring, rising up so fast I swear you can actually see it grow.
Each plant can reach more than three feet (90 cm) tall and four feet (120 cm) wide. Figure on at least one plant for each member of the family.
Dig a hole one to two feet (45 ? 60 cm) deep and two feet (45-60 cm) wide. Fill with a mix of soil and compost. Set the crown in hole and cover buds with no more than one inch (2.5 cm) of soil. Water well.
Rhubarb likes it moist but not too wet. In the middle of summer add a layer of compost around the crowns.
Unfortunately you can?t harvest any stalks the first year. Plants need all the energy they can muster to develop their all important root system that will see them thrive in the years to come. In the second year harvest just a few stalks during the first two weeks of the season.
In the third year it?s a rhubarb bonanza! This is when all your hard work pays off. Twist stalk at its base to remove. Continue harvest for eight to 10 weeks taking a little less than half the stalks from each plant per picking. To freeze simply chop into small pieces, place in a plastic container and pop into the freezer.
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous but make great compost. They also make an organic pesticide (see recipe) or a perfect stamp for creating a leaf impression in stepping stones.
Ideally, after five to 10 years you should dig up the crown in early spring and cut off the large side roots. Divide into pieces making sure each piece has at least two buds and a healthy root system. Replant, replenish, and reap the rewards of an even bigger and better rhubarb patch! Reserve some root for hair dye (see recipe). However, even if you do nothing at all rhubarb will still produce for at least 15 years.
There are red and green varieties available. The green stalked type is more productive, but the red stalks are sweeter. Canada Red, Valentine, MacDonald and Colossal (stalks are gigantic on this one; it only takes two to fill an entire pie shell!) are great red varieties. For green try Victoria ? the sweetest of the green varieties and a very high producer.
Rhubarb is commonly used in jams, pies, muffins and cobblers but also has some more surprising uses.
Cleaning pots and pans ? rub rhubarb over a burned pot to bring back the shine.
Hair Colour – A fairly strong dye suitable for those with blonde or light brown hair can be made by simmering 3 tbsp of rhubarb root in 2 cups (500 ml) of water for 15 minutes. Set overnight, strain and then test on a few strands of hair. If you like the results then pour the entire mixture through your hair as a rinse. Gorgeous, organic and cheap like borsch; or in this case rhubarb.
Insecticide ? Rhubarb leaves make a very effective, organic insecticide suitable for any leaf eating insects (cabbage caterpillars, aphids, slugs etc.) Simply boil up a few pounds of rhubarb leaves in a few pints of water for 15 to 20 minutes, cool and strain into suitable container. Add a few drops of soap or oil to help the solution stick to the plants. This solution is best used fresh. Warning: rhubarb leaves are toxic. Keep solution out of reach of children.