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Monday, March 04, 2013

Swiss Chard: You Can Grow That!

Of all the greens that I can grow in my garden, there's no doubt that Swiss chard is my favorite. The reason is simple: Not only do I like to eat it, but it's easy to grow and works as a great addition to any garden, even amongst ornamentals. The stark white or bright yellow, orange or red stems against the dark greens make it a lovely filler plant tucked into flower beds, and if I only harvest the bigger, outer leaves, the plant will keep growing in my garden for more than a year.

You can plant starts from the nursery but it's very easy to grow from seed. Although mature plants can tolerate light frosts, it's best to wait until after the last frost date to set out seedlings or direct-seed. Swiss chard can grow in full sun or partial shade and prefer cool, mild conditions. They also work great as container plants. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep in rows or broadcast over a bed. Seedlings can be thinned when they reach a few inches and the seedlings make a great addition to salads.

Plants should be kept evenly moist and mulched. Fish emulsion or compost is really all the fertilizer you need, but don't fertilize in the winter if soil temps get below 40 degrees. You can start harvesting leaves in about 50 days. You can cut the outer leaves just above the soil level and leave the younger, inner leaves to get bigger, or you can cut the entire head off at soil level (it may or may not re-sprout from the roots if you harvest the entire head).

Swiss chard is rich in vitamins and minerals and very versatile. You can use it in salads, stir fries, or the same ways you'd use any other greens. My favorite way of eating it is to just chop up stems and leaves together and throw them into a pot of simmering chicken broth along with some frozen tortellini. In a flash you've got a healthy, delicious soup!

For more on growing this and other edibles in California gardens, check out my book California Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (also available in a Nook edition at BarnesandNoble.com).

This post is part of the You Can Grow That! monthly blog series. Check here for more posts by other garden bloggers on how to grow all kinds of edibles and ornamentals. 

2 comments:

Julie said...

I love Swiss chard--I think it is one of the most underused plants. It's beautiful, delicious, and so easy to grow! In SC, I've been harvesting it all winter, and I have dozens of seedlings growing in the greenhouse right now. Perfect topic for YCGT! Great post!

Laila/SowandSo said...

Swiss Chard is really a homegrown vegetable since the leaves wither if you do not use it soon after harvest. That is why you wont see swiss chard sold in grocery stores. Rainbow Chard is so lovely with these amazing colors! For that reason only all YCGT bloggers should grow it, even the ones who do not grow veg!

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