Botanically classified as Beta vulgaris va. Cicla, Swiss Chard is a home garden favorite due to the ease with which it is cultivated. Commonly called by various names including Spinach Beet, Silver Beet, Seakale Beet, Leaf Beet, or just plain Chard, this biennial vegetable often takes a backseat to the more well-known beets and spinach. It is recognizable thanks to its thick yet ruffled foliage that grows from the plant’s crown and is available in a rainbow of colors. Leaves feature large ribs with contrasting veining.
Belonging to the beet family, it can thrive in both warm or cool weather and is considered a superfood when it comes to nutrition content, featuring vitamins C, A, and K as well as fiber, phytonutrients, and minerals. Both foliage and stems are fine for human consumption whether raw or cooked.
A wonderful aspect of this vegetable is that it will continue to grow and produce even if you harvest individual leaves. It will flower during its second growing season, producing small yellow blooms. This leafy green is characterized by rapid growth and thrives in mild climates. You can plant Chard at the beginning of the spring or toward the end of summer. It will grow fatter in cooler climates although it tolerates heat.
When it reaches maturity, it can grow to two feet in height and boast a spread that measures as much as a foot in length. Native to the Mediterranean, it can be successfully cultivated in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10 as a biennial crop or in zones 3 through 10 as an annual.
Because of its variety of colors, Chard can also be cultivated as an ornamental plant in both pots or as a part of landscaping.
Cabbage, turnips, and collard greens are great Swiss chard companion plants.
Planting Swiss Chard
Chard does well when seeds are sown directly in the garden bed approximately two weeks before the final projected frost for your area. You can, however, choose to start early by beginning seeds indoors 5 to 6 weeks before the final projected spring frost. Seedlings can then be transplanted once the final frost has come and gone. Seeds can also be sown outdoors toward the end of summer roughly six weeks before the first autumn frost is expected.
Chard seed will come in small groups of two to three seeds each, so after planting when seedlings sprout, you will probably need to thin your crop. Seeds should be planted approximately three inches apart and ¾-inch deep. If you choose not to thin, you can opt for some early harvesting of young and tender plants. To thin, cut plants to avoid disturbing the root systems of other plants nearby. Keep in mind that smaller plants should be approximately six inches apart and larger plants as much a foot apart, so consider thinning accordingly.
Growing Swiss Card in a Pot
This is an easy plant to cultivate in pots if you don’t have an outdoor garden. Containers do not need to be deep because the plant’s root system is quite shallow. It will require width so that plants can be comfortably spaced. Containers should feature an adequate number of drainage holes to ensure that soil does not become waterlogged. A quality organic potting soil mix should be employed as a growing medium.
Caring for Swiss Chard
The best soil bed conditions will feature soil that is organically rich and well-draining. Because Chard prefers slightly acidic soil, the pH should measure between 6 and 6.4. It does tolerate neutral soil conditions.
Swiss Chard thrives when cultivated in full sun, although it will do fine with some partial shade. Ideally, select a location with four to six hours of sun exposition daily.
Water and Humidity
Ideally, the soil should be maintained moist, but never soggy. If you live in a warmer zone, consider placing a layer of mulch to aid the soil bed in retaining moisture. Humidity is generally not a problem for this crop if it receives sufficient water. Air circulation should be good.
In USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10, Chard can overwinter, but as a biennial, it will move to seed rapidly during its second year. It can be cultivated as an annual in USDA zones 3 through 10. While Chard does tolerate light frost if temperatures dip below freezing for an extended period, plants will be lost.
Swiss Chard likes organically rich soil, so consider amending your soil with organic material or manure when tilling before planting. Once you have planted, side-feed plants in the middle of the season to keep them fed. If your soil is naturally poor and you are unable to amend it, use organic fertilizer for vegetable gardens as instructed by the manufacturer.
Pests, Diseases, and Problems
If you are growing your Swiss Chard outside and you have wildlife in your area, watch out for deer. While Chard may not be their favorite menu, they will eat it, particularly on fall crops before the arrival of winter. Holes in foliage indicate you have a slug infestation. These pests will eat large holes into leaves and tunnel in ribs. Other pests that may disturb your crop include aphids and leaf miners.
Disease-wise, your Chard’s largest risk may be Leaf Spot. You’ll know you have it if large brown patches appear on the foliage. Remove any affected foliage and destroy it. Make sure that your plants are spaced sufficiently to guarantee good airflow. Consider thinning plants if necessary.
Harvesting Your Swiss Chard
Swiss Card needs 50 to 60 days to ready itself for harvest. Try to harvest Chard leaves while they still appear glossy and are 6 to 8 inches tall by trimming off two to three leaves from the outer layer of each plant. Avoid disturbing the plant’s crown, as when left undisturbed it will grow new leaves for you to harvest later on.
Swiss Chard is generally cooked much like spinach, however, very young Chard foliage can be eaten fresh when chopped and used in a salad. Chard is an alternative to spinach and even its stems can be roasted or grilled for a tasty side dish. Freshly harvested foliage can be kept in the refrigerator for several days, but not longer. Chard can be frozen for later uses by blanching it before freezing.
To blanch, you need to scald the vegetable in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Immediately after, place it under cold running water or in a bowl of ice water. Dry and freeze your harvested Chard to preserve its appearance, flavor, and all the important nutrients found in your homegrown vegetables.
Popular Swiss Chard Varieties
- Fordhook Giant Chard: This chard has greenish to white foliage and is known as a vigorous plant offering wonderful flavor.
- Lucullus: a heat-tolerant variety featuring white stems and green leaves.
- Perpetual Chard: Resembling spinach in taste, it will regenerate leaves that are harvested quickly.
- Rainbow or Five-Color Chard: Named for multicolored foliage and stems.
- Rhubarb: This variety is known for dark green foliage and ruby-red stems. Plant after the danger of frost has passed or it may bolt early.