How to Harvest and Freeze Fresh Rhubarb

Nothing brings out the feelings of the start of summer and gardening season like walking out to pick a wheelbarrow full of fresh rhubarb, perfect for making all the sweet-tart treats that our family has come to love. In this post, we’ll talk about when and how to harvest your rhubarb plant and how you can freeze it to enjoy all year round!

Rhubarb patch

Rhubarb is a perennial vegetable, which makes it incredibly easy once you have your patch and produces well after a few years. Just walk out and pick your fill. We are lucky to have a robust rhubarb patch, which means we have more than enough for our family as well as any friends who also love rhubarb’s tart, fresh flavor. Rhubarb grows best in cold climates, which is ideal for states with cold weather reaching as low as -20 degree temperatures.

How to Harvest Rhubarb

Rhubarb is typically ready in the month of June in the Upper Midwest. The plants will retain its stalks and leaves throughout the summer. However, by the end of June, the stalks will start to become tougher more bitter, making it less desirable to eat. Luckily rhubarb freezes excellently, which means it can be enjoyed year-round and incorporated in many dishes during strawberry season, which tends to be a bit later. The main indicator of when your rhubarb is ready is the length of the stalk. Stalks typically reach about 12-16 inches in length.

Fresh cut rhubarb

The best way to harvest your rhubarb is to grasp the stalk firmly and pull it directly from the ground. Look for tender, young stalks that are bright red in color. Avoid cutting the stalks off as this can spread disease and cause damage to your plants. We like to pile the cut stalks in the wheelbarrow. Then grabbing a smaller bundle of stalks, take a sharp knife and chop off the large leaves. The leaves are toxic, inedible, and can cause premature wilting of the pulled stalks. However, rhubarb leaves can be added to your compost pile. The oxalates, which make them toxic, break down as the plant decomposes.

Harvesting rhubarb

How to Freeze Fresh Rhubarb

Fresh-picked rhubarb can be stored in your refrigerator for up to three weeks. Freezing rhubarb is incredibly easy. Just wash the stalks, chop them into pieces, place in a freezer bag, and remove as much of the air as possible. Blanching can help retain flavor, but I find that it is not necessary.

Fresh rhubarb stalks

Freezing fresh rhubarb

This is a side-by-side of fresh rhubarb and last summer’s rhubarb that had been frozen for an entire year! There is some oxidization but still great for baking.

Fresh vs. frozen rhubarb

Rhubarb has a naturally sour taste and is best paired in sweet dishes, but the options for use can be endless – rhubarb sauce, jam, pie, crisp, muffins and bread, and bars. The natural sweetness of strawberries make it a well-loved duo for rhubarb. See our list of rhubarb recipes and enjoy a delicious, seasonal treat!

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