Chard, or Swiss chard, is a variety of beet grown for its leaves and stalks rather than for its roots. This is the same species as beets, with the helpful Latin variety name cicla, meaning beet-like. Chard does not form a swollen root, as beets do, and its roots are inedible. But it’s a great plant for the vegetable garden because of the intense colour variations of its thick, crunchy stems. These are available in vivid red, gold, yellow, hot pink, green, orange, and white, and all are eye-catching. The red stemmed types have a slightly more intense flavour than the green or white varieties usually available in the grocery store.
Our most popular variety is the mixed colours of Celebration Swiss Chard.
Chard has been cultivated since at least as far back as the ancient Greek empire, and it was grown around the Mediterranean, particularly in Sicily. Some people still think of it as Sicilian spinach or spinach beet. Indeed, it is closely related to spinach (as well as quinoa, orache, and epazote) as a member of the family Amaranthaceae. Although chard was extensively cultivated in Switzerland, it is also a staple of French cuisine, particularly from the regions of Lyon, Provence, and Corsica. The name “chard” comes to us from the Latin cardus, referring to the thistle (and artichoke), via the French word carde.
Chard is remarkably versatile in the kitchen, and can be steamed, sautéed, boiled, braised, or eaten raw. When cooking it, treat the leaves as you would spinach and the stalks like asparagus. Chard, like regular beets, is spectacularly nutritious. One cup of boiled chard contains nearly 110% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A, half the daily dose of vitamin C, and very high amounts of vitamin, E, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and iron. It is rich in protein and dietary fibre, as well. Most of all, chard is intensely rich in vitamin K, which contributes to blood coagulation, bone metabolism, and vascular health. That single cup of chard contains 7 times the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. Like its sibling, the beet, chard is also high in anti-oxidants, which are good, and oxalic acid, which is not so good. At least, over-indulging in food rich in oxalic acid can lead to kidney stones.
How to Grow Swiss Chard:
Difficulty: Easy. While chard can be grown in large containers, it is better suited to the vegetable bed.
Timing: Sow mid-April to early August. Chard is moderately winter hardy, and may provide a burst of new growth in spring after a mild winter.
Sowing: For salad mix: seed densely and cut as baby leaves. For full size: Thin to 15cm (6”) apart. Seeds germinate in 5-15 days, depending on soil temperature. Sow in rows 45cm (18”) apart, 10 seeds per 30cm (12”), 1cm (½”) deep.
Soil: Swiss chard prefers loose, deep and fertile soil that has lots of added organic matter. The optimal pH range is 6.0 to 7.0. Plenty of consistent moisture is required, especially as plants grow larger. Be sure to plant Swiss chard in full sun, but it can tolerate some shade in the summer.
Growing: Keep weeded and well watered in dry weather.
Harvest: Cut individual stalks using the large outside ones first. Or snip when small for salads.
Storage: Swiss chard is highly perishable, and should be used fresh, if possible. Cut chard can be stored in plastic bags in the vegetable crisper for no more than 3 days.
Seed info: In optimal conditions at least 75% of seeds will germinate. Soil temperature for germination: 10-30°C (50-85°F). Usual seed life: 3 years.
Growing for seed: All beets and chards will cross-pollinate, and are pollinated by wind, making seed production complicated. For purity, isolate each variety from all others by 5-10km (2-5 miles).Pests & Disease: Watch for leaf miner damage – the tiny worms can be squished inside the leaf before they do more damage. Keep a tidy growing area to reduce damage from slugs and snails.