By Mara Higdon
Swiss chard, also know as chard or silverbeet (Beta vulgaris var. cicla), is one of my favorite and easiest greens growing in my garden. Feather-shaped, slightly ruffled green arms are held up by brightly colored pink, red or yellow stems. Originally from the Mediterranean region, chard was once held in high regard for its medicinal properties. Swiss chard is excellent for its concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. How can you pass up a vegetable that is packed with goodness?
You can start your own seedlings indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Direct seeding can also be done at the last frost date. Either way, you will have an abundant supply of chard all summer if you harvest continuously throughout the spring and summer.
Swiss chard needs a sunny spot with adequate drainage to flourish. To plant, sow the seeds one inch apart with a foot or so in between rows. Plant them about 1/2 inch deep. Keep the area moist until you see the first sprouts pop up. After germination, thin the seedlings till they are about 6-8 inches apart once they have their first set of true leaves.
Once established, it’s best to keep water off the leaves and provide water at the soil level. Leaf miners, who lay their eggs on the underside, may be a problem. You can prevent an infestation by using row covers. Chard seems to do quite well in both hot and cold weather. I have yet to see it bolt even in our hot, humid weather.
Colorful chards, such as ‘Rainbow Chard’ and ‘Bright Lights’ (a 1998 AAS selection) are great to try. Other cultivars to try include green forms, such as ‘Lucullus’ and ‘Fordhook Giant’.
Use young leaves in salads and raw food dishes. Substitute swiss chard for spinach in a lasagna or try them in a stir fry! It’s so easy to grow and just as delicious!
Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.