• 57°

Why in the world would we grow rhubarb?

Impressive

Submitted photo Piedmont Research Station’s Hunter Barrier holds up one of the large leaves of the rhubarb.

By Amy-Lynn Albertson

Rowan Cooperative Extension

If you are born and raised in the South, you probably have never heard of or tasted rhubarb. And you have been missing out. Don’t have fear of missing out about rhubarb, just try it.

Rhubarb or Rheum rhabarbarum is herbaceous, edible perennial and a member of the buckwheat family. It is a native of Siberia and has been used as a medicinal plant in Asia for over 5,000 years. Up north, rhubarb is known as a “pie plant.” In Indiana, I grew up eating strawberry rhubarb pies and rhubarb crisps.

The edible portion of the plant is the stalk or petiole. The color of rhubarb stalks can vary from the commonly associated crimson red, through speckled light pink, to light green. Rhubarb stalks are poetically described as “crimson stalks.” The color results from the presence of anthocyanins, and varies according to both rhubarb variety and production technique.

The color is not related to its suitability for cooking: The green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, but the red-colored stalks are much more popular with consumers. It’s very tart like a Granny Smith apple, with a crispy texture like a celery stalk.

The plant grows from large, fleshy rhizomes which are called a crown. The leaves are enormous and toxic because of their oxalic acid content. The poisonous rhubarb leaves have been used in flavoring extracts after the oxalic acid is removed. Oxalic acid can also be found in the stalks of rhubarb, but the levels are too low to cause any harm.

It’s too hot here in the Piedmont of North Carolina to grow rhubarb as a perennial. Rhubarb requires at least 500 hours of winter temperatures between 28 and 49 degrees for plants to go into rest period and produce an adequate amount of new leaf buds.

However, when summer temperatures exceed 75 degrees, plants become stressed and become more susceptible to root rot and bacterial diseases. As the number of people from the northern states that have moved to North Carolina has grown, so the demand for rhubarb has grown.

Our local foods agent Danélle Cutting decided to try growing rhubarb as an annual crop at Piedmont Research Station. We have little information on growing rhubarb in the South, so any cultural information gathered is very useful.

Danelle organized several on-farm tests of rhubarb in neighboring counties and at the station. With assistance from Hunter Barrier, a research specialist at the station, seeds were grown into transplants, and 1,500 plants were planted in September, along with the strawberry crop.

The idea was rhubarb would be harvested along with strawberries, making perfect ingredients for a pie. The rhubarb was grown on plastic with drip tape underneath. Red, silver, white and traditional black plastic were used to see if there would be a yield difference with the different colors. Harvest started in April, and the project ended this week. However, the plants could have had more stalks harvested through mid-June.

The preliminary results show that the best yields came from rhubarb grown on black and silver plastic. Rowan County Extension is not ready to make any large-scale recommendations for planting rhubarb, but we do see a niche market, especially for direct marketers and specialty markets. The growers who grew the rhubarb found the demand outweighed their supply and they are interested in growing rhubarb again.

Extension will be partnering with the Piedmont Research Station to grow rhubarb again for the 2018 growing season, and we hope to have answers to the many questions we have from this season. If you are interested in finding out more information about growing rhubarb, please contact the Rowan County Extension Center at 704-216-8970 or on the web at http://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu.

Comments

Coronavirus

Cooper plans to lift gathering, distancing limits by June 1

Crime

Convicted sex offender charged with having child pornography

Crime

Rowan County woman faces drug crimes for gas station incident

Crime

Blotter: Thousands of dollars in lumber taken from Newsome Road house

Local

Locals react to Chauvin verdict, reflect on work still to do

Business

With remote expansion, outsource provider FCR looks to become an ‘exceptional part’ of Rowan community

Local

City expects $1.5 million surplus in current budget, ability to raise some wages for police, public works

Education

Enochville Elementary to host farewell event May 1

High School

High school softball: Carson beats West in a wild one

College

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson will speak at NC State graduation

High School

Wonders, Trojans facing off Monday on Cannon Ballers’ field

Local

City approves two apartment developments, more than 160 new units

Nation/World

Crowds react with joy, wariness to verdict in Floyd’s death

News

Bill seeks to end pistol purchase permits from NC sheriffs

Coronavirus

Rowan County sees 300th death attributed to COVID-19

News

Chauvin convicted on all counts in George Floyd’s death

Local

Top North Carolina House finance chair, Rowan representative stripped of position

Crime

One charged, another hospitalized in fight between cousins

Local

Bell Tower Green renamed to honor Stanbacks; Nancy Stanback receives key to city

Business

Commissioners green light additional houses at Cherry Treesort in China Grove

Education

A.L. Brown will hold in-person, outdoor graduation

Local

Granite Quarry awards FEMA contract for Granite Lake Park

Local

City to vote on apartment developments, final phases of Grants Creek Greenway project

High School

High school football: North receiver McArthur a rising star