Swiss chard is a vegetable that too few gardeners consider planting, which is a shame. It is an incredibly easy vegetable to grow, is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and is a beautiful addition to any garden. Because it’s time to plant chard in the Southern garden, let’s take a look at this overlooked garden treasure.
Chard is a centuries-old Mediterranean vegetable, originating in Sicily. The term Swiss Chard was developed to differentiate the vegetable from French spinach varieties in 19th century seed catalogs.
The scientific name for chard is Beta vulgaris. It is a member of the beet family; yet, unlike the beet, the plant focuses its energy on growing its leaves rather than its root. All chard have green leaves, but some varieties have colored stalks. However, green chard, of which the most popular is Fordhook Giant (which I grow), outproduces the more colorful hybrids.
Chard is rich in minerals, fiber, and protein. It’s also high in vitamins K, A, and C, providing 716%, 214%, and 53% of recommended daily values, respectively. Wow!
Chard can be planted in Zones 5-10 in organic soil with a pH of 6.0-6.8. It enjoys full sun, but can tolerate a little shade. Plant from seed about two weeks before the last spring frost, about 1/2 inch deep. Because chard grows about 28 inches high, thin plants to 10-12 inches apart. Chard can handle cold and heat. It will survive light frosts and can be planted from early spring through beginning of July.
Be sure to give your chard plenty of water on a regular basis. It needs 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water per week.
Chard is a quick growing plant, ready to harvest in 50-60 days. Harvest the outer leaves when they’re about 6 inches long, cutting them close to the main stem. Each plant will give you a continuous harvest until the fall.
In zones 7-10, chard is a perennial. Cut back all the leaves in early fall, and it will come back in late winter.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
Although chard is delightful fresh in salads, some people find the taste a little too bitter. Cooking will remove the bitter taste.
Here’s my Italian recipe for chard (and any greens):
Saute several cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil at medium heat. Add some dried red pepper flakes.
When the garlic begins to turn brown, add your cut chard. Stir well to cover the greens with the olive oil. Saute until the greens become limp. Serve immediately.
Note: Greens have a lot of moisture in them, so the oil will spit at you when you put the greens in. Please be careful!
Here are some other recipes you may like:
Why not consider growing chard in your garden this year? It packs a large nutritional punch for little gardening effort.