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Vermont Garden Journal: Rhubarb, One Of Few Perennial Vegetables

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Rhubarb is one of our few perennial vegetables. It's long lived, very productive and also makes a nice addition to a perennial flower garden with its large, tropical-like leaves and tall flower stalks.

This common edible was first used as a medicinal plant by the Chinese. It hales from Mongolia and likes cool, damp conditions. It made its way to Europe, but wasn't until the 1700's that rhubarb was used as an edible. Rhubarb eventually found its way to America and is a staple in many New England gardens.

Rhubarb is one of our few perennial vegetables. It's long lived, very productive and also makes a nice addition to a perennial flower garden with its large, tropical-like leaves and tall flower stalks. 

Rhubarb is easy to grow in full sun on well-drained soil. Avoid clay soils or it will languish for years. Be generous adding compost and water well the first year.

Start harvesting the second year removing the thickest stems or petioles. Don't eat the leaves, they're toxic. However, they make a good mulch around plants. You can even boil one cup of chopped leaves in 5 cups of water, strain it and spray it on ornamentals to control aphids and caterpillars.

Remove flower stalks to extend the production. Keep harvesting until early July or until the petioles get thin, but never remove more than 1/3 of the petioles in one year. A different way to grow rhubarb is to force it. In spring, cover the plant before they start growing with a pot to block light. You'll get more tender, pink-colored petioles. The English are crazy about blanched rhubarb. They force it indoors like Belgium endive. To do so, dig three-year-old roots in fall, place them in containers filled with potting soil and leave them outdoors for a few weeks. Bring them indoors into a warm, dark basement in early November and harvest blanched stems in winter.

And now for this week's tip, keep picking the adult red lily leaf beetles adults off your lilies and look for the black slug-like larvae on the underside of the leaves. Crush the larvae and spray with Neem oil or Spinosad towards evening to not harm honey bees.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about weed control. Until then, I'll be seeing you in the garden.

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