The Shed

The Shed
The Shed

Sunday, March 25, 2012

FARM GIRL'S CORNER - Swiss chard


Hi! I'm Farm Girl and I help Uncle Mac around the shed, and out in the garden and things like that. This morning for example, it was a little chilly outside so I helped him warm his dibble before we went outdoors to work. It is amazing what a feller, even an old geezer like Mac, can accomplish with a well warmed dibble!

But what today's Corner is all about is Swiss Chard and why it's such a great veggie to grow!

Everyone looks forward to greens in springtime, they are usually some of the first crops available. Kale, beet and turnip greens, tender spinach, all are wonderful straight from the plot and into the pot. The only problem is, once you have cut them, you have seen the last of them until the fall crop comes in. They will not grow back.

Not so with Swiss Chard. This cousin of the beet will produce tender, buttery leaves and flavorful stalks from late spring through the first hard frost if properly tended.

As with most vegetables chard produces best when the bed is partially prepared during the preceding years fall clean up. Chard produces a broad and deep root system, so when digging the prospective bed, double digging is beneficial. Take the opportunity to add large quantities of compost and other organic matter, chard thrives on loose, well drained soil. Chard is one of those few vegetables that does not require full sun to flourish, six hours daily is adequate.

Two weeks before the final frost date is a fine time to plant, so long as the beds have thawed and drained. Otherwise wait another week or two. Soaking the seeds overnight will shorten germination time, which can occur in 7 to 14 days depending on the weather.

Here at the shed we like to give the chard bed a quick dig, adding sifted compost and then raking it smooth.  We then add a 1 1/2" to 2" layer of sifted compost made by the hot process method which has killed the weed seeds, and rake that smooth as well. Next, wherever we want a chard plant (About 5" from center to center) we scoop out a cup sized divot from the compost layer and fill it with fine, unfertilized potting soil. We plant 3 to 4 chard seeds in each circle of potting soil, just about 1/2" deep, and gently pat the soil flat.

You may be thinking that's a lot of work for a small chard patch but really, it pays off. The potting soil is sterilized, free of weed and other seeds and you therefore know that whatever sprouts in it is chard. The compost layer is likewise 98% free of weed seeds and suppresses the growth of most weeds coming from the dirt layer below. Initial weeding is virtually eliminated, a mulch layer is prepositioned and all the gardener has to do is thin the chard plants to one plant per potting soil circle.

Some outer leaves should be ready to harvest in 40 to 45 days from germination, always leave the smaller, inner leaves and chard will continue to produce in most planting zones right up until the first hard frost.

Chard needs regular watering but should require no nutrients other than the compost already provided, it is a relatively light feeder.

Swiss chard is as delightful to look at as it it tasty on the table, and can be used to add color and eye appeal to the garden. Different colors can be placed in small patches at strategic locations to create an unusual and pleasing effect.

While most traditional chards like Fordhook Giant and Lucullus feature dark green leaves on white stalks, as in the first picture, there are also magenta varieties...

There are golden varieties...

"Bright Lights" mixes all colors of chard together in one packet...

Botanical gardens find Swiss Chard so colorful they sometimes include it in ornamental beds!

But chard is primarily for eating and can be used raw in salads, stir fried, boiled, steamed and prepared many ways using a plethora of recipes. As an extra bonus chard happens to be one of the most nutritional vegetables available, packed with vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Chard seeds are available in any garden supply store, or from any of the seed companies, or even at your supermarket in the seed rack in the produce section. Why not add this tasty, nutritious, eye pleasing easy to grow green vegetable to your garden plot? You will be glad you did! 

That wraps up today's Farm Girl's Corner; as always, thanks for stopping by!  

2 comments: said...

I love those bright lights! You'll never guess in how many botanical gardens I've seen them growing in with pretty flowers! They're amazing! And I bet they never even thought about eating them...but I do, YUM!

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Mac, I have to check out these colours of Swiss chard, I've never seen them. Amazing and beautiful stuff! I like the red and white already. Now for the blue and yellow ":)