Initially, I turned my nose up at rhubarb because I have never used it…ever. I’ve had rhubarb pie once every few years but to my knowledge, that was the only use for the plant.
Turns out the plant has a lot of uses, including being a great companion plant and producing a refreshingly tart water drink. In fact, it is reported that the toxic compounds in rhubarb leaves can be made into a spray that is fatal to aphids (PDF, page 5). This site, Golden Harvest Organics states that rhubarb helps brassicas which is a great family of crops for both marketing and cold weather growing. Therefore kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts etc. Additional non-brassicas like chard, carrots, garlic, onions, lettuce, arugula and other greens can be successfully grown. Additionally rhubarb, like asparagus, is harvested very early in the spring and can provide that initial spurt of cashflow to start the season. Lastly, its is an extremely easy plant to grow so it should suit my Virginia location well.
Specifically, 6 rhubarb crowns will be planted far apart. The vacant space in the bed will be filled with the suitable species listed above and companion planted as needed. Low space requirements for all of these plants mean that they will be planted in 1 square foot sections and varied for diversity.
Another desirable characteristic of rhubarb is that is can be propagated very easily. Simply, the roots are split and replanted. If they prove to be successful sellers in the Shenandoah Valley or produce a noticeable difference in the neighboring plants, more rhubarb crowns can be produced in the future from the initial stock.
For the first year, here is the plan for rhubarb: