Rheum x hybridum
Although technically a vegetable, we are using it as a fruit.
The Bee and Thistle Orchards have planted three varieties of Rhubarb, all of which will be used in the production of wine starting this year, 2019. So far, we have a total of 350 plants, with room for expansion of just about an acre into the beds beside the Cherry nursery and around the original farm barn. This is an ideal protected location, with an adjacent slough that is used via a pump to water the plants, and trees to the north and west, protecting the field from harsh winter winds and snow drifts. Nature has taken care of the mulching too as this is a lower-lying piece of property that accumulates a natural snow cover early in the winter season. We anticipated putting straw mulch down for the winters, but found that wasn’t necessary. This year (2019), we are doing an experimental straw mulch for weed control as soon as the plants are big enough so they won’t be hidden by the mulch.
Canada Red is an excellent variety of Rhubarb for winemaking. It easily withstands Canada’s various climates and is considered hardy enough for all of our agricultural zones; Debden’s climate can be harsh and we are zoned at 1B. Rhubarb needs a significant dormancy period; this is not an issue in Saskatchewan.
Canada Red stalks are red, shorter than other varieties and the plants are somewhat smaller. The fruit can be harvested the second year after planting. They grow fast and require very little care, coming back bigger and better each season. We also have a few Victoria plants, original to the farm, and these are being subdivided as we progress. Our Canada Red was planted in 2017, some from seed, and has been split since then. Although many people insist that Rhubarb grown from seed is not true to character, these plants have done exceedingly well and are showing true character and attributes of the crown-propagated ones. The rhizomes will be further split in the fall, as will the rest of the patch of German Wine Rhubarb. Mid-April already finds the patch showing positive signs of growth, with their characteristic heads sprouting out of the soil. The photo below shows some of the teensy seedlings when they first developed. For size comparison, the stalks are the size of small twigs and are only 3” tall! By summer of 2018, they developed into full-sized Rhubarb and were divided and planted into the main beds that fall. Currently, the spring of 2019 finds us subdividing and transplanting errant plants that are still showing their heads through the soil of the original seed and nursery bed. Some of those crowns and rhizomes are over a foot deep!
Our German Wine Rhubarb was purchased from a grower in Nova Scotia as divided rhizomes. It is similar to Victoria Rhubarb but is slightly more vigorous and intense in colour and has a darker pink speckling on a green stem. The German Wine Rhubarb stalks are large, dark red and are very sweet. The high sugar content, intense colour, and unique flavour profile will transform into a visually and aromatically appealing wine.
The German Wine Rhubarb was planted in April, 2018 from purchased rhizomes and permitted to grow untouched and unharvested. Except for watering and weeding, this bed was left alone in summer and fall of 2018. This allows the plants to develop strength for a good root system and encourages the rhizomes to proliferate and multiply. 2019 promises to be a great harvest, and the plants are already budding above the ground as of mid-April. Rhubarb makes its own compost from the stalks and leaves that die and wither into the ground. We let nature take care of that process! Last year’s leaves and stalks will feed this year’s rhubarb!
May, 2019 has our Rhubarb plants growing nicely. Margie transplanted 40 Victoria plants to the Victoria Rhubarb patch on the roadside of the barn. All of the Canada Red, Victoria and German Wine patches have been weeded and hoed several times.
Did you know that Rhubarb has the highest amount of vitamins C of all the vegetables? It has more than 200 therapeutic properties, in addition to being a good source of dietary fibre.
For wine-making, Rhubarb has a unique taste profile that is said to blend “neutrally” with other fruits. Some of the acids in Rhubarb will need to be tamed a little, but with a careful acid and pH assessment and judicious adjustments, our Winemaker intends to make a highly coloured Rhubarb wine from the German Wine variety, and use the Canada Red and Victoria varieties for blending purposes. Haskap and Rhubarb work very well together in juice and jams, and we are excited to see how they blend in wine! A good reason to try our Rhubarb wine!
Watch for our first Rhubarb wine to be available in the fall of 2019. We’ve already picked its name - Loch Aline!