Lush, leafy Swiss Chard
Swiss chard is nature’s gift to food gardeners because it is such an easy, rewarding vegetable to grow, especially for beginners. In moderate to mild climates it can be grown year round, it doesn’t seem troubled by pests, it keeps on producing and always looks lush, and even colourful. It is nutritious as well, being a good source of vitamin A, calcium, iron and fibre. Not everyone likes the taste of Swiss chard, but that may be because of the way it is prepared. Don’t boil the life out of it, but rather cook the leaves quickly in very salty water with the lid off so that the sulphur can escape, or stir-fry the shredded leaves in olive oil with a dollop of butter.
Types to try
White-stemmed varieties of Swiss chard, like ‘Fordhook Giant’ and ‘Lucullus’ have large, lush, green leaves and are consistently more productive, and bolt resistant, than coloured-stemmed varieties.
Multi-coloured-stem varieties, like ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Canary Yellow’, ‘Flamingo Pink’ and ‘Ruby’ are beautiful edible ornamentals that are still productive enough to be worth growing.
Baby spinach is not a chard but is grown for picking as a salad leaf or for quick stir-frying. Spinach varieties like ‘Viroflay’ or ‘Lazio’ have small leaves and are ideal for this, whereas it would be a waste to use Swiss chard as a baby leaf.
• Prepare the soil well before planting or sowing, working in nitrogen-rich composted manure or slow-release organic fertiliser (Vita Veg 6:3:4(16)).
• Sow directly into the soil or into seed trays. Each seed is actually a cluster of seeds and it is more manageable to sow into seed trays and then thin out into pots for growing-on before transplanting into the garden.
• Even easier is to buy seedlings and plant them 15-20 cm apart. About 8-10 plants should yield enough leaves for a meal once a week for a family of four.
• An ideal position is full morning sun and afternoon shade. With more sun the leaves will droop in the heat of the day, but if the soil is moist they will revive later.
• Plants do best with regular watering.
• Mulch around plants. This also keeps the leaves clean.
• Pick 2-3 outer leaves from each plant. Cut off the leaves at the base or twist them off (pull downwards and twist so that the leaf snaps off).
• The more regularly you harvest, the more the plants produce.
• After picking, feed with a nitrogen-rich liquid feed or compost tea to boost the production of new leaves.
• Whole harvested leaves will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks in a loose plastic bag or sealed container. Want a continual supply? Plant first in spring and a second crop in mid- to late-summer. Swiss chard plants can produce leaves for a year, but may get woody and lose quality, so it’s best to pull them out and put in a new crop. If ‘Bright Lights’ sends up a stem, cut it off, feed the plant and it will produce new leaves around the base.
Good to know
When preparing Swiss chard, first fold each leaf in half with the topside of the leaf folded inward. Cut along the stem and discard it. Stack the leaves and chop them