Chard is fabulous in containers on the balcony, mingled with ornamentals in your landscape, and brightens any veggie garden, especially in Mediterranean winter gardens! Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!
And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again! In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years! Low calorie, only 35 calories per cup, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6, a valuable food for maintaining strong bones. Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!
In a sense, Chard, Beta vulgaris, is a relatively new vegetable that is thought to have first been described in the mid-18th century. It is also known as Swiss chard, silverbeet, spinach beet, and even spinach in different parts of the world. It is in the same family as beets, but doesn’t make a bulb like they do.
Chard, an all season plant in SoCal, is one of the top 5 veggie producers per square foot! It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days! It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes. Besides being a beauty, having a blazing array of colors, leaf after leaf it feeds a family! Though the colorful hybrids are stunning, and your shopping list is delighted with their magical names, the older green forms tend to outproduce them and are more tolerant of both cold and heat. The mammoth white stemmed Fordhook Giant can’t be beat! It grows up to and more than 2′ tall and feeds an army, with heavy yields even in hot weather!
Five Star ratings go to Burpee’s Rhubarb Chard, Verte a Carde Blanche and Verde da Taglio.
Bright Lights is an All America Selection winner!
Umania is a Japanese chard that tolerates heat and cold, is slow bolting.
Flat leaved or bumpy?! Bumpy, called Savoyed, leaves give more chard per square inch, but they can also hide aphids. Narrow or wide ribs. Green, crimson or purple leaves! Rib colors galore, from white to neon to the darkest reds!
You can see why chard is frequently used in flower gardens!
Check out Nan Ondra’s post! She grows a designer quality garden in Pennsylvania! Nan says ‘As the season progresses, the leaves of some of the orange- to red-stemmed chards darken to bronzy green or even a deep purple-red.’
Do you like that purple one with the yellow rib?! The beauty on the left is Prima Rossa! The cooler the weather the deeper the color!
Perpetual Spinach varieties and container sorts make leaf after leaf, and behave themselves. Maybe you would like some red leaves and red ribs! Try Scottish heirloom MacGregor Swiss Chard! It does not get colossal, is more tender than other chards. Pot of Gold is also a charming dwarf variety!x
28 Days for tender little leaves, only 55 days or so to maturity.
Chard likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added. It is sensitive to soil acidity. A low soil pH results in stunted growth. Consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space! A healthy chard, will take a 2′ to 3′ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant! At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!
Soak seeds overnight or presprout! Direct seed into the garden 3-5 weeks before the last frost date, or you can start seedlings indoors around the same time. Transplant seedlings after your last frost. Chard seeds germinate best in soil temps around 75°F-85°F (not air temps) but 50°-55°degrees will do, and is practical. Avoid seeding during daytime air temps of 80°F or more. In SoCal, one of the best times to plant is mid August for production all winter long. Plant then in the shade, on the north or east sides, of taller plants that will be replaced by fall plants or will finish soon. Chard seeds don’t mind those hot August soil temps, but Chard plants here do best in cool weather, wilting pitifully midday in hot summer temps. Check your soil to see your plant really needs water or is reacting to the heat.
Germination will take 5-16 days. Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds and will produce more than one plant. Spacing will determine the size of the plants. Space plants at 4″-6′ apart within rows spaced at 18″-24″ apart. When the young plants are 4 inches high, thin them to stand 8 inches apart. If you are pest and disease conscious, keep right on thinning so adult leaves don’t touch each other!
Depending on your space and needs/wants, avoid planting in rows, plant far enough apart that mature leaves don’t touch leaves of another chard plant. Interplant here and there. That way Leafminers, aphids and diseases can’t go plant to plant. if you have space, you can broadcast your seeds in sections of the garden to create a bed of tender leaves and thinned to 4 inches apart as they mature. Otherwise, plant your seeds 1/4-3/4 in. deep. That will give you a steady table supply of tasty little greens!
Mulch in summer keeps roots cool and moist. In So Cal winters it keeps rain from splashing soil up onto the leaves.
Water Chard, like Lettuce, likes plenty of water regularly to keep it sweet. It’s putting up big leaves again and again. Weed early and often!
Feeding! Since Chard is a prolific producer, it needs feeding from time to time. In summer it can use a little compost and a tad of manure. Some worm castings would make it even happier! Late summer spread a little compost over the root zone, drench with a water-soluble organic fertilizer. They will make a strong comeback early fall. In winter a light feed of fish emulsion is easy to apply, and easy for it to uptake.
Pests & Diseases
- Hose APHIDS off Chard, kale and brocs. Keep doing it for a few days to catch the ones you missed. For hard to get at places, down the centers of chard and in crinkly kale leaf crevices, get out that spray bottle! Treat once, wait a couple days, treat the ones that got away and newborns.I tried this home remedy, it WORKS! The simplest is to spray with 2 parts alcohol, 2 parts water, 1 part soap. DO NOT use on seedlings, it will kill some of them. Spritz lightly rather than drenching or you may kill your bigger plant too! If the aphids are totally out of control and you can’t get to them down in the center of the plant, if you are very brave, cut the whole plant off a couple inches above the crown, let it produce new leaves.
- Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets, going from plant to plant. These are not plants to row crop! You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers. Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately. Keep your chard harvested and well watered to keep it growing and producing fast, sometimes outgrowing the leafminers. Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet! So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty! Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with. Plant something else delicious in your new free space!
Details from U of Illinois Extension: Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five. One larva may feed on more than one leaf. After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later. The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year! That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle! Cornell Cooperative Extension UC – IPM
- Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends. Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue. Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming. I chuck snails and slugs where our crows gourmet on them. Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand in the cardboard box of the same stuff. Lay down Sluggo two or three times to kill the generations then you won’t need to do it again for quite awhile.
- Beets, Chard and Spinach get Cercospora leaf spot, light brown patches surrounded by purple halos. Promptly remove infected leaves. Late fall or early spring plantings are most likely to be affected. Late summer when conditions are favorable (high temperatures, high humidity, long leaf wetness periods at night) is the worst. It grows on infected crop residues, so immediately remove leaves that collapse on the ground. It is carried by wind or rain to host leaves. This is one case where AM watering really makes sense to reduce humidity. Plant less densely for more airflow, thinnings are tasty! Planting only every 3 years in the same spot often isn’t possible if there is too little garden space, so cultivating, turning and drying the soil between plantings is good. See more
Harvest & Storage
Cut or twist off stems of outer leaves while still tender, 1-2 inches above the soil surface. Leaves are of best quality just when fully expanded or slightly smaller. Chard loses water very quickly after harvest, so give it a rinse, shake off excess water, pack loosely in a plastic bag, get it into the fridge. Use ASAP, 3-4 days! Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas. Blanch and freeze leaves if you like; use in soups and stews later.
Like other biennial plants, chard produces flowers and seeds in the spring of its second year, after it has been through winter. Let your favorite chard make a flowering stalk, seed and dry. The seed is super easy to harvest. Just hold your fingers close to the stalk, zip them along the stalk and put the seed in an airtight container. Label it right then and there because you can’t tell chard seed from beet seed! Same family. If you want that variety of colors, and don’t have room or the time to let all of them seed out, just get a packet at your local nursery or online from your favorite seed house. Keep your seeds cool and dry, viability 3+ years. Harvest plenty for you, gifts for friends, seed swaps!
When preparing your chard, if you are eating it for the Vitamin A, trim the leaf from the rib. You can eat the rib, it just takes a little longer to cook unless you chop it up into little pieces. Ribs have healing factors all their own due to their colors! Here’s a surprise – use stems like celery! Stuff and serve! Or pickle them, or the crisp ribs can be steamed or grilled like asparagus!
Small leaves in salad, drizzle with a sauce or dressing of your choice. Larger leaves chopped, steamed over rice or in stews. Toss with olive oil and stir fry with your favorite veggies and protein. Layer in lasagna or a casserole of scalloped potatoes or turnips. Everyone has their favorites! Deb Elliott of Helena AL loves hers in chard soup, beginning with chicken bouillon, Italian sausage, onions and little red potatoes. Chopped chard leaves are added toward the end, as it only takes a few minutes for them to cook.
Chard can be used as a substitute for spinach in most dishes and goes well with roasted meats, cream sauces, nutty cheeses, and tomatoes. Try adding chard to au gratin or serving it alongside Jamaican Jerk chicken with red beans and rice. Squeeze out excess water, and use the cooked chard in casseroles, quiches, or as a succulent side dish.
Or try this Vegetarian Stuffed Chard Oregon Style from Organic Authority!
Cabbage is substituted by chard in this Pacific Northwestern version of a Scandinavian recipe. Light, nutritious and deliciously healthy, the chard leaves are stuffed with a grain of choice alongside Oregonian staples like hazelnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese and late summer veggies for a satisfying and wholesome dish. The red, pink, white and yellow veins of rainbow chard leaves are an excellent choice for this chard recipe, especially if you are looking for visual appeal. Serve it as a main vegetarian dish with a side of yogurt sauce, homemade chutney or lemons wedges, or make smaller ones to serve as pop-in-your-mouth appetizers.