Rhubarb is generally grown as a cool season crop in mild, temperate climate. A detailed account of growing practices for rhubarb plant is given below:
Climatic Requirements: Rhubarb is a hardy, frost-resistant plant. It can be grown either as an open field crop or as a forced crop in cooler forcing sheds or greenhouses. Rhubarb grows best in cooler climatic conditions. It is resistant to cold and dry weather conditions (drought). Favorite temperature range for rhubarb growing is below 40ºF in the winter to break dormancy and stimulate spring growth; and below 75ºF in the summer for vigorous vegetative growth. Extreme weather conditions such as hot dry weathers and extreme colder climates are not suitable for successful rhubarb cultivation.
Soil Requirements: Rhubarb grows well in well-drained, fertile soils that are rich in organic matter. Slightly to moderately acidic soils are also good for rhubarb cultivation as rhubarb plants are tolerant to soil acidity. Ideal pH is 6.0 to 6.8.
Propagation: Rhubarb is propagated by crowns. Divisions of rhizomes with healthy growing buds are called ‘crowns’. Normally, a division of rhizome containing one or two healthy growing buds is selected for planting. One-year old crowns are recommended. Propagation by seeds is also possible but it is not recommended as seedlings thus produced may not be true-to-type. Another disadvantage of seed propagation is, seedling-propagated plants produce low-quality, and small-sized leaf stalks.
Selection of Crowns: Only vigorous, healthy, true to type crowns should be selected. Older crowns and any off types should be discarded. Avoid diseased and damaged crowns by all means.
Site Preparation: Site where full sunlight is available is best suitable for rhubarb growing. Site should be well prepared by ploughing and levelling. All types of weeds, both annual and perennial, should be removed as rhubarb is a perennial crop which remains on the site for several years. As a general rule, a clean site where there is no threat of perennial weed infestation is preferred for rhubarb cultivation.
Planting Time: Rhubarb crowns are planted either in early spring when the roots are still dormant or in the fall after dormancy has set in.
Planting Method: While planting, crown buds are placed minimum 2 inches below the soil surface. Planting on ridges or raised beds ensures good water drainage which in turn prevents occurrence of crown rot. Soon after planting the crowns on beds, they are covered with soil and a light irrigation is given thereafter.
Spacing: Recommended spacing is 0.5 to 1 meter within rows and 1 to 1.5 meter between rows.
Fertilizer Application: Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and hence liberal amounts of fertilizers must be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer application should be based on soil test analysis (which shows nutrient reserves present in the soil) as well as based on crop requirements. At the time of site preparation, a good amount of organic manures (15-20 tonnes/acre) should be incorporated into the top soil. Thereafter 50 – 60 Kg N (nitrogen), 25 Kg P (phosphorus), and 50 Kg K (potassium) should be added annually in two split doses: first dose during active vegetative growth and second dose after harvesting.
Irrigation: Rhubarb is a moisture loving plant. Organic bio mulches are recommended for soil moisture conservation. During dry periods, frequent irrigation is necessary. Irrigation should be done based on soil moisture level conditions and prevalent climatic conditions. Trickle irrigation may help conserve water and may also allow fertigation (supplying nutrients along with irrigational water).
Weed Control: Perennial weeds may be a problem while growing a rhubarb plantation. Growers may adopt mechanical and cultural weed control methods such as mulching to control the weeds. When crowns start growing and leaves start appearing, mulching is recommended to preserve the soil moisture as well as to control the weed growth.
After care: Since rhubarb is a perennial crop, the plantation may get crowded over a period of time. So division of individual plants is recommended once in every three to four years. This is done during winter months while plants are dormant. During dividing individual plants care is taken not to damage the growing buds. Normally, each plant is divided into three or four separate plants. New plants may be used to plant a new plantation. Flower stalks or seed stalks should be removed as and when they appear.
Economic Life of a Rhubarb Plantation: Good yield is obtained from third year onwards. Under good cultural management practices, a rhubarb plantation may last up to 12 to15 years.
Harvesting: Harvesting is done from the third year of planting onwards. During harvest, leafstalks of 12 to 18 inches long are harvested. Each harvest period may last up to 8 to 10 weeks for a large plantation. During harvesting process leafstalks (petioles) of rhubarb are carefully pulled out without damaging the leafstalks and developing buds. While harvesting a few leafstalks are left intentionally on the plant to ensure further growth of the plant. Never pull out the leafstalks heavily as this may weaken the crowns from the base.
Immediately after pulling out the leaf stalks, leaf blades are separated leaving 3 to 4 cm of midribs with intervening tissues (leaf lamina). Some leaves with stalks should be kept in the plant. That is, individual plants should never be stripped of entire leaves while harvesting. This will ensure new growth. New stalks come up within a few weeks (within 7 to 10 days).
Harvesting Time: Normally rhubarb is harvested from mid-May through August.
Yield: Estimated yield from a well-managed rhubarb plantation is 15 to 18 tonnes per acre.
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