Guess Who’s An Old Tart in the Garden?

Rhubarb is the answer.  This easy to grow, edible delight has been a source of early season food for our ancestors and our generation, sometimes while still eating the stalks of a plant that has lived a hundred years.

Planted by the earliest pioneers as an early season food source, most of the old farmsteads across the country still have rhubarb growing somewhere around them.  It’s easy to imagine the delight of having an early fresh food after months of living off of preserved foods.

Planting:  Rhubarb roots are best planted in the Spring.  As the plant is going to live in its location for decades, proper soil preparation is important.  Start by digging a hole 18” deep and wide in full sun.  Allow 3-4 feet between each plant (4-5 plants will easy keep a family fed each year).  Fill the bottom with a good compost and garden soil and continue mixing the two together until the hole is almost full again.  Sprinkle a handful of bone meal over the soil and then bury the rhubarb plant so only the crown is showing, or as deep as the first leaf if one is showing. Water in thoroughly.

Maintenance: Make sure your rhubarb has adequate moisture during its growing season.  Wait for at least a year or two before harvesting.  At some point in time the plant will send up a tall flower stalk.  As the flowers do use up a lot of the plant’s energy, it is best to remove them.  This also helps the plant to keep producing new stalks throughout the Summer.  Rhubarb is wonderfully free from both insects and disease.

Harvesting:  If you can with long enough, try to choose stems that are at least 12” long.  Pulling and twisting the stem away from the stem encourages the plant to create new stems quickly, as where cutting doesn’t harm the plant, but does slow down stem production.  Remove the leafy part with about 1 inch of stem.

What to make.  A great-aunt of mine was making this 50 years ago and it’s one of my favourite  rhubarb desserts.  She was the wife of a United Church minister, and I’m not sure if she or a member of the congregation created it.  Either way, it’s still delicious.

Kool Breeze Rhubarb Coffee Cake

325 degrees                                45 Minutes                             8×11 glass pan

2  cups of flour.                          1/2 cup butter                        2 1/2 cups rhubarb

1  tsp baking soda.                     1 egg

1/4 tsp salt                                  1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups brown sugar.             1 tsp vanilla

Topping   3/4 c white sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

Mix together flour, baking soda and salt.

Cream butter with brown sugar.  Add to dry ingredients along with egg, milk and vanilla.

Beat well with electric mixer.

Add rhubarb.  Pour into glass pan.  Top with white sugar and cinnamon.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Enjoy!

Garth Davey, May 2022
Questions? Email Garth at