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Swiss Chard

There are two types of Swiss chard, green chard with light green stems and veins and ruffly dark green dimpled leaves, and brightly colored chard with stems and veins of yellow, orange, magenta, purple and red with dark green leaves. Both look the same when stripped of the stems and cooked.  Chard is a relative of the beet, but over the centuries has been selected for bigger, more abundant leaves and smaller roots.
Swiss chard is a terrific, easy to grow choice for the home gardener. It’s cold tolerant, meaning you can sow the seeds directly into your garden as much as 2 weeks before the last frost date. It is pretty maintenance free, needing no fertilizer or special treatment other than good well drained soil and regular watering – 1″ a week.
It’s full of antioxidants and is delicious both raw in salads or sautéed. Chard is a prolific producer, too, and can be harvested in two ways.
  1. “Cut and come again” method where you cut the entire plant, leaving an inch above the soil. The plant will regrow a new crop of tender young leaves. Grow them 6 per square foot for this method, and replant seeds once you harvest your first crop of leaves so you’ll have a new crop of tender young leaves once these plants quit producing.
  2. Harvest only the larger, outer leaves, much like I harvest my lettuce. Grown 2 to a square foot, these will produce for months. This is how I prefer to grow chard.
Chard seeds come in clumps of several seeds, so they’ll need thinning once they’re an inch or two tall. I always start them 9 per square, or every 4″.  First, treat your soil with BiotaMax and a liquid kelp fertilizer like Sea Magic.  Make small indentations in the soil with your finger tips, and drop a cluster in every depression. Lightly cover with soil and mist until the area is soaked. Mist twice daily until they’ve sprouted their first pair of real leaves.  They’ll be recognizable to you – they look like little baby chard!
I grow it in my lettuce bed, with the shorter lettuce in the front (south) end of the bed, and then growing spinach, then chard, which will grow taller than the spinach or lettuce. The Bright Lights variety of chard is so beautiful that garden centers sell it as a decorative landscaping plant. As long as you avoid chemicals in the garden, when the season’s over, you can eat them. Now that’s edible landscaping at its finest!
For you northerners, chard will survive the winter. It’s a biennial, and rarely will bolt to seed in its first year of growth. Cut back and left in the garden, it will sprout new leaves in the spring, but this second growth will not be as heat hardy as the original growth.
Happy gardening!

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