ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

Why won’t my rhubarb turn red?

Posted July 13, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

Rhubarb! I don't get it. We grow only 100 feet of it, in landscape fabric to deal with weeds. But we get only perhaps seven percent to 10 percent of the stalks to ripen to their beautiful red. The rest stay green. What can we do to enhance our yields?

Sarah Cassidy

Dear Sarah,

Thanks for the question on rhubarb. I'm not a rhubarb expert, but here is the combined information I have from myself and our head gardener Eileen Weinsteiger. First, not all rhubarb is created equal. By that I mean some rhubarb varieties turn red and some don't. This doesn't affect the flavor but it will, of course affect the appearance of your food. That bright red color is attractive, but some plants just don't turn red. As far as increasing the yield goes, we suggest you fertilize freely with well composted manure. Rhubarb is a robust-growing plant that likes plenty of nutrients. Compost will be a good fertilizer for this plant type.

Good Luck!