Swiss Chard for cold garden areas:
A member of the beet family, with a mild, spinach-like flavour, Chard is easy to grow and adaptable. It grows best in well tilled, fertile soil. It has a long tap root and can endure hot, dry days if you mulch it well to retain soil moisture. It can with stand frost although it will bolt if it gets a lot of frost followed by very hot days, so wait until the beginning of May to plant.
Chard is harvested by taking the outside leaves and allowing the plant to continue growing. It sends up new leaves from the crown and will continue growing until snowfall. It can withstand frosts down to -5 C, and if you give it a row cover will recover from colder temps.
Chard is a mainstay in my garden, here at 2700 feet with frost expected every day during the growing season.
The West coast seed catalogue says of Swiss Chard:
Rich in vitamins and so nutritious, chards are very easy to grow! Swiss Chards are propably the most under-appreciated of all vegetables. The thick stems can be cooked like asparagus. The baby leaves can be used as fresh salad greens or cooked like spinach. While the leaves are eaten, it is in the same species as the garden beet (beetroot), which is grown primarily for its edible roots.
The word Swiss is used to distinguish Swiss Chard from French spinach varieties. Popular among Mediterranean cooks, our finest varieties can be traced back to Sicily. The dark green leaves of this beet relative are a very good source of beta carotene and vitamin C and a good plant source of iron and calcium. (Family: Spinach, Chenopodiaceae).
Varieties to plant
When purchasing seed, get the larger package as the seed will keep for up to 3 years if kept in a cool, dry place. As you get into year 4, check germination before you discard the unused seed. I usually plant 3 or 4 varieties every Spring. Fordhook Giant gives you the most vigorous growth with succulent white stems and huge leaves, in fertile soil. These are the choice for wraps and cabbage rolls. Rhubarb chard, Canary Yellow, and Flamingo Pink are my other favourites for their bright stem colour and smaller, colourful leaves. Open pollinated seed grows just as well as hybrid seed and will be cheaper to buy.
Chard can be grown in containers for urban gardening and makes a lovely garden plant among the flowers in a front garden, too, with its colourful stems. Since chard is harvested through out the growing season by taking the larger outside leaves, you can ignore the “days to maturity”. The baby leaves of early chard make a great salad addition.
How to plant in the garden
To grow it plant it in prepared ground 1/2 inch deep about 8 inches apart, and in rows about 18 inches apart. Closer spacing will not give you more leaves, as the plants produce fewer leaves when crowded. The seed looks like beet seed and like beet seed has several seeds in each “seed”, so you may get quite a more than one plant coming up in each spot. The extra plants can be thinned for salad greens or carefully pulled up and replanted in another bed. You can also increase the baby leaves by planting it closer together.
It is hardy to zone 2 and can handle the frost. Plant it in full sun anytime after mid April, when the ground can be worked, about two weeks after you would plant peas in your area. They will grow all season from one planting and you can harvest the large outer leaves for vegetables, stir fry, “lettuce” wraps, or “cabbage” rolls. Baby leaves make colourful and mild tasting salad greens.
Cooking with Chard
Chard comes in a variety of stem colours from white, red, golden-yellow, orange and green. The stems can be served like asparagus, chopped for soup or stews, and added for colour to salads. The largest outer leaves make great wraps for cabbage rolls, veggie rolls, and in a low carb diet they make a good substitute for tortillas in wraps. You can also cook them like spinach and serve them in place of spinach in dishes like lasagna and spanakopita.
Spinach has a really short season, and will bolt as soon as warm weather comes. Swiss chard makes better use of the ground, so you have to work less for an abundant harvest. Add some compost tea twice during the growing season, about a month apart and you will get an abundant harvest from a small patch of chard.
Animals love it, too. Feed it to rabbits, goats, sheep and llamas to extend your forage.
When using it, don’t pick it and let it sit in your fridge for weeks before you eat it. The taste becomes bitter and it loses quality and vitamins. Instead treat it like corn and cook it the day you pick it and you will be rewarded with a sweet, buttery flavour and nice texture.
Preserving Chard for the Winter
To preserve the harvest for winter use, dry it in your dehydrator or freeze it. Canned it gets quite mushy, so I avoid canning. Used dried or frozen it can be added to winter soups, stews, and pasta or rice dishes with ease. Only pick what you can easily preserve that day, and you will have delicious vegetables all winter.
Chard for dinner
1 organic lemon, washed – grate the zest and reserve. Squeeze the juice and reserve. Wash 10 stems of chard, and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Saute some green onions, chives and fresh oregano leaves in 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, briefly until just wilted. Stir in sunflower seeds and lightly toast. Add lemon zest. Add prepared chard and saute until just wilted. Pour lemon juice over chard and continue stirring until just warm. Serve warm as a vegetable or add cubes of fresh goat cheese and serve as a main dish.
What’s your favourite way to serve Swiss Chard? What cold season vegetables grow well for you? Leave a comment.
Photo credit: cc dn fisher