Swiss Chard

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Homegrown Favorite

When it comes to hard-working, great-tasting, and resilient plants, Swiss chard always makes the list. Also called leaf beet, seakettle beet, and spinach beet, this bold, leafy green is--you guessed it--related to beets. It is also easy to grow, has few pest and disease problems, is slow to bolt, and tastes fantastic both raw and cooked.

Available in a bouquet of beautiful, bright colors and featuring a mild, earthy flavor, Swiss chard is a delicious and interesting alternative to leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce. Ellen Ogden, cookbook writer and cofounder of The Cook's Garden seed catalog, praises Swiss chard as the quintessential kitchen-garden plant because of its long growing season and ease of use in a variety of recipes. Since you spend so much time working hard in your garden, why not try a plant that works hard for you?
Growing Guide

Sowing. To prepare your soil for chard, blend 2 to 4 inches of compost into the top 6 inches. Direct-seed at a depth of ½ to 1 inch in spring, or in summer for a fall crop. You'll notice germination in about one to two weeks. If you prefer, you can grow transplants and transfer them into your garden after seedlings develop four to six mature leaves. When planting, space seeds or seedlings 6 to 8 inches apart.

Growing. Give Swiss chard plants 1 or 2 inches of water each week and spread mulch around them to conserve soil moisture and keep weeds at bay. In the early growth stages, protect seedlings and transplants with a row cover (see "Easy DIY Shade Tent," on page 27, for our simple row-cover frame).

Harvesting. Start snipping and eating Swiss chard anytime after leaves form. To harvest mature chard this fall, cut full-size leaves from the outside of the plant.
Best Varieties

Chard varieties come with a range of gorgeous rib and vein colors, so try planting a couple of different ones. We recommend glossy, green-leaved 'Fordhook Giant' for its crispness, high productivity, and snow-white ribs. 'Rhubarb' has rich, bright red stems and veins and a high vitamin content. 'Bright Lights' was named an All-America Selections winner in 1998 for its stunning array of gold, orange, yellow, pink, and even purple stems.
Problem Solving

While Swiss chard is relatively problem-free, be diligent about weeding and stay especially proactive about preventing early leaf-miner infestations.

Between April and May, leaf miners lay eggs on the underside of leafy, greens such as Swiss chard, leaving blotchy brown trails in the foliage. Prevent these hungry critters from depositing their eggs by covering your chard with a floating row cover. Cut away infested leaves. Swiss chard is quick to recover and fast-growing, so any damaged plants should spring up again in no time.

master's tip Prevent leaf-miner infestations by planting chard in an area far from spinach and beets and in a location where spinach, beets, and chard have not been grown for two years, advise John and Aimee Good, who grow all of these crops at their Quiet Creek Farm, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

newbie hint Germination can be spotty in temperatures above 80°F. If you direct-sow chard seeds in the heat of summer, shade your soil (see the technique on page 27).

PHOTO (COLOR): When harvesting older leaves, either cut right above newly emerging leaves or slice individual stems off at the base of the plant.

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By Lauren Sloane

Edited by Willi Evans Galloway

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