Swiss chard is a green that many seasoned gardeners claim everyone must grow. A prolific grower with a long cropping season, it tolerates partial shade, poor soil and inattention. Chard is a cool weather vegetable and will withstand a mild frost. It also puts up with heat and with dry weather. It does well in containers and has a long harvest period, it will give tasty spinach type leaves for up to twelve months from a single sowing.
Chard is probably the most under appreciated of all vegetables, vitamin rich and nutritious. In recipes the leaves can be used in any dish that calls for spinach and the white stalks can be creamed like asparagus. Eat the young leaves in salads and save the larger leaves for steaming, stir-frying, or chopping and sautéing. Chard is one of the easiest of all vegetables to grow and is a good choice for the beginner or busy gardener.
Swiss Chard ‘Fordhook Giant’ may just well be the perfect vegetable. Introduced in 1934, this well known bolt resistant variety has been a market leader for years. A vigorous grower with a very long harvest period, the plants grow 50 to 60cm (22 to 27in) tall and handle both heat and light frost particularly well.
Fordhook Giant is a fine flavoured variety that produces thick, dark green, crisp, crumbled leaves with a broad white rib on juicy white stalks. This excellent variety continuously produces new leaves when harvested frequently.
Plant early and often, and enjoy fresh greens long after frost has killed the others. 25 days to maturity for baby and 50 days for bunching.
Chard Fordhook Giant has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
You can grow Chard in most parts of the garden as long as it is not in deep shade but will give a better yield when in a sunny spot. They require a good draining soil but that's their only key requirement soil-wise. While this plant is very forgiving and will grow where the soil is the poorest, like any plant this prolific grower will respond to compost, manures and fertilisers.
One planting will almost always last the season, so plan a permanent place for it. Chard grows well in a soil of around 6.5 - 6.8 an acidic soil will stunt growth. It is resistant to most plant diseases.
Plant early and often. Sow under cover from February to March then direct sow from April to early September.
Chard is normally sown directly into the soil, but for an early crop, a few seedlings can be started indoors. Transplant them outdoors when the night temperatures are at a min. of -2°C (28°F). It will sprout fairly early, and will not be harmed by spring frosts.
Sow in Spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Sow the seed thinly 5cm (2in) apart at a depth of 1cm (½in). If growing more than one row, space the rows about 38 to 45cm (15 to 18in) apart. The seedlings will appear in about 15 days and should be watered for the first month or so if conditions are dry.
The plants will need thinning to about 15 to 25cm (6 to 10in) between plants. If left until around 15cm in height before thinning then the thinned plants can be treated like an early harvest and the young leaves will be extremely tender and tasty.
Chard are hardy vegetables and will grow with little or no attention. Their main need is for weeding. This can be done by regular hoeing. An alternative is lay black plastic and let the plants grow through this. Black plastic is particularly useful for Swiss Chard because they stay in the ground for so long. To minimise the bitter mid-summer taste, make sure the plants get plenty of water.
Chard is sturdier than spinach and can cope better with water shortages, however you should still water regularly to ensure optimum growth and prevent bolting. Bolting leads to premature flower and seed production and will divert the plants energies away from leaf growth. If a flower stalk develops then clip it off to extend the harvest.
To extend harvesting past the first hard frost you can put the plants under a cloche or polytunnel to extend the growing season.
Harvesting: 25 days for baby leaf and 50 days to maturity for bunching.
Chard can be picked as soon as the leaves are large enough to harvest, usually in four to six weeks. The best leaves for salads are the younger leaves, about 8cm /3in long. Chard is a pick and come again crop use a knife rather than pulling off the leaves. For multiple harvests from the same plant simply pick the outer leaves and leave the inner younger leaves. Be sure not to damage the central terminal bud at the centre of the young growth. You can also if you wish harvest the whole plant.
Let the outer leaves grow as big as you want. If you can't eat it as fast as it is producing, cut and discard leaves as they begin to wilt. If the patch gets out of hand, do major surgery on the leaves. The inner leaves will take their place quickly.
As the weather cools, the leaves are their tastiest, if they turn a little too bitter in mid-summer, make sure to come back to them later. Harvests until the first hard frost, many gardeners pick Chard as late as Christmas.
After picking the leaves simply wash and add to salads or wash and then quickly heat in a pan using only the water that clings to the leaves after washing. This will avoid overcooked soggy leaves. Chard does not store well so should either be eaten within a few hours of picking or stored in the salad box of the fridge for a maximum of 3 days.
Chard is very popular among Mediterranean cooks. The first varieties have been traced back to Sicily. It has been around for centuries, however because of its similarity to beets is difficult to determine the exact evolution of the different varieties.
Chard and the other beets are chenopods, a group which is either its own family Chenopodiaceae or a subfamily within the Amaranthaceae. Although the leaves are eaten, it is in the same group and subfamily as beetroot (garden beet), which is usually grown primarily for its edible roots.
Chard, Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla is a sub species of Beta vulgaris, the beetroot and has been bred to have highly nutritious leaves at the expense of the root. It has shiny, green, ribbed leaves, with stems that range from white to yellow to red, depending on the cultivar.
The word "Swiss" was used to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties by 19th century seed catalogue publishers.
Chard is also known by its many common names such as Swiss chard, Silverbeet, Perpetual spinach, Spinach beet, Crab beet. Seakale beet.
Leaf Beets and Chard– What’s the difference?
Leaf beets are of two types, depending on whether or not a thick leaf midrib and petiole are present.
Perpetual spinach or Spinach beet (Beta vulgaris var. cicla) is grown for its leaves, which are used as greens or a potherb. It is distinct from spinach (Spinacia oleracea) and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa). Spinach beet does not have a thickened leaf midrib or a thickened petiole (leaf stem). It also lacks a swollen taproot of Beetroot. (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris).
Spinach beet has never been bred intensively and there is no tradition of distinct cultivars. Three European varieties were proposed by Helm in 1957, based on foliage colour, but this classification has not persisted. Perpetual spinach is usually sold generically as 'spinach beet' or 'leaf beet'. However, the exception to the rule is the Italian cultivar of perpetual spinach called Erbette, which is listed in seed catalogues.
Chards are grown for their foliage and in particular their thickened leaf midribs and petioles. As with spinach beet, there is no swollen taproot. Although some leaf beets have fairly thick roots, they are never fleshy. The white root of chard has in times past been consumed medicinally, in the form of infusions, and very occasionally as food, for example, in times of hardship.
Chard is often used synonymously with Swiss chard, but older chard varieties are sometimes considered to be distinct from Swiss chard. The word Swiss was used to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties by 19th century seed catalogue publishers. Several types of Swiss chard can be distinguished, based on petiole or leaf midrib colour and other characteristics. Swiss Chard is sometimes also called seakale beet or silver beet. Lucullus is one of the oldest chard varieties and it has green leaf blades and white petioles. The variety ‘Fordhook Giant’ is said to be a descendant of Lucullus.
Chards occur in many colourful forms, including Bright Yellow Chard and Ruby or Rhubarb Chard. A popular recent introduction is Bright Lights Swiss Chard, an improved chard that has leaf midribs and petioles that occur in a mix of colours.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1.75 grams Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Common Name Leaf Beet, Ruby Chard.
Heritage (Britain 1934)
Other Common Names Perpetual Spinach, Seakale Beet, Family Chenopodiaceae Genus Beta Species vulgaris subsp.cicla Cultivar Rhubarb Red Hardiness Hardy Biennial Foliage Crimson-stemmed green leaves, Spacing Thin to about 15 to 25cm (6 to 10in) between plants. Time to Sow Sow under cover from Feb to March then direct sow from April to early Sept. Time to Harvest Approx 55 days to maturity.