Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, 1901
edited by L.H. Bailey

RHUBARB, or Pie-plant, is commonly grown by division of the roots, and this is the only method by which a particular type can be increased. Propagation from seed, however, often proves satisfactory, and always interesting, as the seedlings vary greatly. The seed germinates easily, and if started early the plants become fairly large and strong the same season. Although the crop is so easily produced, and so certain and regular after a plantation has once been started, it is one of the most profitable of market-garden crops, even in small places and neighborhoods. A large number of home gardeners are still without it on their premises, although everybody seems to want Rhubarb pie as soon as spring opens, this plant giving the first available material in the year for pies.

Rhubarb delights in extremely rich soil. Very large and brittle leaf-stalks cannot be secured except from soil that is really “filled with manure to overflowing.” The seedlings, however, may be started in any good clean garden soil. Sow seed in early spring, in rows a foot apart and not over an inch deep. Thin the plant promptly to stand a few inches apart in the rows, and give the same thorough cultivation allowed to other garden crops. In the following fall or spring take the seedlings up, and set them in the well-prepared permanent patch, not less than four feet apart each way, and cultivate frequently during the entire season. Ten to twenty plants will supply the demands of one household, possibly with some to spare for the neighbors. In spring of the next year the stalks may be pulled freely. When soil fertility forces a rampant growth, the stalks will be large and brittle enough without the aid of boxes or kegs (bottomless and coverless) placed over the plants. The beds should be renewed every 4 or 5 years at the least, as the clumps of roots grow so large, and have so many eyes, that the stalks soon become more numerous than desirable, and run down in size. Take up the entire roots and cut them to pieces, leaving only one strong eye to the piece, and plant the pieces in a newly-prepared bed (or even in the old one if properly enriched and prepared) four feet apart each way as before. Seed-stalks are produced freely during the entire season. These should be promptly pulled up, unless seed is wanted. A few may be left to mature the seed crop.

Rhubarb can be forced in coldframes, under the greenhouse benches, or even in an ordinary house cellar. The plants need warmth (even that of a lantern set among them will do), but require no light. Take up good strong roots (2- year seedlings being best) in autumn; leave them out until after exposure to freezing, then crowd them together in boxes with a little soil between and under them, and set them under the greenhouse bench, or wherever wanted, or plant them out on the cellar bottom.

T. Greiner


RHUBARB is a hardy plant and will withstand considerable neglect, but, like most cultivated vegetables, it responds readily to proper care and good treatment. The large fleshy stems desired in culinary use are produced in part by the great store of plant-food held in reserve by the many big roots of the vegetable. Everything should be done to increase this supply of reserve food. Tillage and fertilizing, therefore, are fundamentals. In the selection of a site the writer prefers a southern exposure, with sufficient slope to the south to give good drainage. Plow the ground 6-8 in. deep, draw furrows 5 ft. apart, set the plants 3 ft. apart, with the buds one inch below the level of the ground. If the soil lacks in fertility, mix compost with the dirt that is placed about the roots; never put fresh manure next to the roots. As soon after planting as possible, start the cultivator, and give a thorough stirring at intervals of 6-8 days up to the middle or last of August. After the ground is frozen, cover the rows 3-4 in. deep with manure that is as free as possible from weed and grass seed. As early in the spring as the ground can be worked to advantage, start the cultivator and work the manure into the soil. Each alternate season the surface of the soil should have a good dressing of manure. The third or fourth year after planting, the hills should be divided. Remove the earth from one side of the hill and with a sharp spade cut through the crown, leaving 3-4 buds in the hill undisturbed. This work should be done in the fall or early in the spring.

As a forced vegetable, Rhubarb is growing in popularity. The plant has no choice as to whether it is grown in light or darkness. Blanching improves the flavor and reduces the acid, lessening the quantity of sugar needed in cooking. Divided roots, with 1-3 buds, which have been grown in highly fertilized, well-tilled soil will give the best results. Plow out the plants any time after killing frosts, divide the roots and place them in single layers on top of the ground, covering with earth sufficiently to protect the roots from the air. Leave them in this condition until the roots have been slightly frozen, and then place the roots either in a root cellar, a frame heated by pipes, a hotbed, mushroom house or under benches in a greenhouse. Pack the roots close together, filling in and packing closely with good rich soil. The crowns should be covered 4-6 in. Keep the soil moist and maintain a genial temperature of 55-60 degrees. Avoid over-watering. The roots may be packed in a family cellar without any bad effect to other things, as there is no odor from the plants. Judgment must be exercised in pulling the stems. The work should always be done by an experienced person.

The writer has grown seedlings for ten successive years. Fully 75 per cent of all the seedlings showed a tendency to degenerate, and 25 per cent were almost as coarse as burdocks in appearance. Half of one’s seedlings are likely to be of weak vitality. Not more than 15 per cent can be counted on to be fairly true to the varietal type. In the writer’s experiments, 4 ounces of seed was sown each season. The seed was selected from ideal plants that had been propagated by division.

As to varieties, the writer has had best results with Linnaeus and Victoria.

S.H. Linton


FORCING OF RHUBARB — The forcing of Rhubarb has now become quite a profitable industry in the vicinity of many of the large cities. It may be forced either in the field where the roots are growing or lifted and placed in hotbeds, under greenhouse benches or in a dark cellar.

Much the larger part of the Rhubarb which is offered for sale during the winter months is grown in rough forcing houses which are built over the plants in the field. These houses are simple and cheaply constructed, the sides usually being about five feet high, of rough boards, which are covered with cheap building paper. The roof is formed of hotbed sash. These buildings are usually from 24 to 36 feet in width and of any desired length. Artificial heat is generally provided, steam being the most popular, although the sun is at times depended upon to give the required heat. The soil moisture is usually sufficient, so that no water is given. Plants for forcing should be set not more than two by three feet apart and should be fertilized annually with liberal dressings of compost, that made from cow and hog manure being considered the best. The sash should be placed upon the house during the first part of February, and may be removed for use on hotbeds and coldframes in from four to six weeks. The stalks are usually pulled twice, the returns being from $1.25 to $2 per sash, depending upon the season at which it is placed upon the market. The cost of production is often greatly reduced by growing a crop of spinach or dandelions between the rows, the price obtained for these fillers usually being sufficient to pay for all cost of labor and maintenance.

Roots for forcing under greenhouse benches and in hotbeds should be from beds at least three or four years old, as the larger and more vigorous the roots the better the results. Satisfactory results cannot be obtained from inferior roots. The roots should be dug early in the fall before the ground freezes and allowed to remain exposed to the weather until they are frozen solid, when it is best either to remove them to a shed or cover them with litter in the field to prevent alternate freezing and thawing. Care should be taken to leave as much dirt upon the roots as possible when they are dug.

As soon as the roots are placed in position under the benches, all spaces between them should be filled with soil to prevent evaporation. When the plants start into growth they should be given an abundance of moisture. When forced in this manner light is not necessary; therefore any convenient place may be used, provided the proper amount of heat and moisture is supplied. If grown in the dark, the development of leaf is much less than in the light, while the color, instead of being green, is usually a dark cherry-red, which gives to the product a very attractive appearance. The temperature may range from 45 degrees to 75 degrees, although the lower the temperature the larger the yield and higher the quality of the product. The time required for bringing a crop to maturity under the benches is about the same as that required for forcing in the field.

The method which is to be followed in the growing of this crop for the winter market will depend largely upon local conditions. When grown by any method which requires the lifting of the roots, it must be remembered that they are worthless after having produced a crop; therefore this method cannot be practiced with economy except where land and labor are cheap, so that the roots may be produced at a slight expense, or where roots may be secured which would otherwise be destroyed. Be the method what it may, the roots to be forced should be well developed and allowed to freeze before forcing is attempted, otherwise failure to secure a profitable crop is certain.

G.E. Adams