Add chard for its nutritional value and ornamental charm.
Chard is a beet that has been chosen for leaf production at the expense of storage root formation. Chard will produce fresh white, yellow, orange, pink, or red leaf stalks. It has an attractive ornamental value that adds color to the vegetable garden.
Chard goes by many names: Swiss chard, leaf beet, seakettle beet, spinach beet. It is a beautiful large-leaf vegetable with wide flat stems resembling celery. The ruby variety is especially charming with its vivid red stem with broad dark green leaves. If you like spinach, you will adore chard. The flavor is mild yet earthy and sweet with slightly bitter undertones.
The word "Swiss" was used to distinguish chard from French charde or chardon by 19th century seed catalogues publishers and the name stuck. Chard is very popular among Mediterranean cooks, but the first varieties have been traced back to Sicily. In the U.S., the leaves are valued while European cooks value the stalks to the point of discarding the leaves or feeding them to animals.
When to Plant
Chard can be directly seeded into the garden in early spring to mid-spring. It can also be started transplant to transplant into the garden. Sow seed indoors or in a cold frame in early spring.
Spacing & Depth
- Plant seeds 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep (8 to 10 seeds per foot of row)
- Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart.
- An alternative method is to thin the seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart; then, when they are large enough for greens (6 to 8 inches tall), harvest the excess plants whole, leaving a final spacing of 9 to 12 inches between plants.
Maintain sufficient soil moisture to keep plants growing well.
Cut off the outer leaves 1 1/2 inches above the ground when they are young and tender (about 8-12 inches long). Be careful not to damage the terminal bud, at the center of the bottom of the growing rosette of foliage. A few plants will supply an average family, as each plants will produce greens throughout the season.
Selection and Storage
- Chard can be harvested while the leaves are young and tender or after maturity when larger and have slightly tougher stems.
- Chard is extremely perishable, so keep refrigerator storage time to a minimum.
- Store unwashed leaves in plastic bags in the crisper for 2 to 3 days. The stalks can be stored longer if separated from the leaves.