Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) is very closely related to beets. Instead of growing chard for its root, we grow it for its delicious stalks and leaves. It is even easier to grow than its relative, and is useful in a variety of dishes, from soups and stir fries to simple side dishes. We even use it on pizza around here. The stalks can be used like celery, while the leaves can be used the way you'd use any other leafy green, such as spinach or kale. Unlike many leafy greens, however, Swiss chard is less quick to bolt in hot weather, and you can just keep harvesting from it all season long.
Where to Grow Swiss Chard
Swiss chard grows well just about everywhere, though it should be grown as a winter crop in warm climates. It isn't too picky when it comes to soil, but grows best in rich, well-drained soil. It grows very well in full sun to partial shade.
Swiss chard can be planted just about anywhere: traditional garden beds, raised beds, or containers all work well. But don't stop there! Consider working this beautiful veggie into your ornamental plantings as well.
Planting Swiss Chard
Swiss chard seeds can be direct sown right into the garden one to two weeks before your last spring frost date. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep and approximately 8 to 12 inches apart. To get a jump on the season, you can also sow them indoors in cell packs or soil blocks, two to four weeks before your last spring frost date.
To keep a continual harvest, consider planting a new row of chard every week or two throughout the growing season, up until 8 weeks before your first fall frost.
How to Grow Organic Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is really easy to grow. Once it gets going, it mainly requires regular watering to keep producing. A monthly diluted feeding of fish emulsion or compost tea will also keep your chard productive.
It may start to grow more slowly once the temperatures consistently reach the 80s, but once things cool off, new leaves will start growing again. And it is equally tolerant of cold weather -- even snow isn't always enough to finish off Swiss chard!
Swiss Chard Pests and Problems
Swiss chard has very few pest issues. Flea beetles can sometimes be a problem; simply grow chard under a floating row cover to protect your plants. Slugs and snails can sometimes be a problem in moist weather. A sprinkling of crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth around your plants can deter them, and hand-picking is always effective in getting rid of these pests.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
One of the great things about growing Swiss chard is that you can harvest regularly from the plants, and they'll still keep producing! Just keep harvesting the outermost leaves from each plant, and it will keep producing new leaves from the center. To harvest, use a knife or pruners to cut the stalk close to the base of the plant. By the end of the season, each plant will probably develop a very thick, woody base from which you've been cutting all of those stalks; this can be chopped up and added to the compost pile. It is much too tough to eat.
Swiss chard is a beautiful, delicious vegetable. Here are some great varieties to try:
- 'Bright Lights' produces bright green leaves atop bright pink, orange, white and yellow stalks.
- 'Orange Fantasia' produces beautiful, large leaves on thick, bright orange stalks.
- 'Fordhook Giant' is a classic choice that forms dark green leaves on white stalks.