Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris subsp.cicla) is a leafy, upright-growing annual that should be a part of every vegetable garden. It’s prolific and easy to grow, with large, thick green leaves that have a mild flavor.
A member of the beet family, it’s a good alternative to spinach, and like spinach, can be eaten raw or cooked. Most chard varieties have red or white stems which resemble celery stalks. The stem is edible, with a texture similar to bok choy, but generally it’s the leaves that are eaten.
One variety that’s become popular – to the point of eclipsing other varieties – is ‘Bright Lights’. That’s due to its crumpled, bronze-green leaves on brightly colored stems in shades of yellow, gold, white, pink, rose, orange and red. Flavor-wise, it doesn’t taste different from other chard varieties.
But ‘Bright Lights’ is as pretty as a vegetable comes. It’s beautiful enough to plant in the flower border; a great choice if vegetable gardening space is limited. ‘Bright Lights’ is an All-America Selections Winner. Other varieties that are equally good include ‘Fordhook Giant’, ‘Ruby Red’, and ‘Large White Ribbed’.
Swiss chard prefers cool temperatures, but tolerates heat and humidity. It grows to be one to two feet tall and one to one and a half feet wide.
How To Grow
Soil: Well-drained, light soil rich in organic matter, with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Site: Swiss chard does best in full sun, at least six hours a day, but can handle part shade, especially in hot climates where afternoon sun is strong.
Planting: Sow seeds indoors or out, ½” deep, in spring and early summer in U.S.D.A. Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 7, and in fall for Zones 8 to 10. Seedlings emerge in about a week. Thin seedlings to about 12” apart when they are large enough to handle. Sow monthly for a continuous harvest.
Water: Swiss chard is thirsty. Keep the soil moist; don’t allow it to dry out.
Care: Feed with a nitrogen-based fertilizer. Control weeds.
Pests and diseases: Aphids, leaf miners, flea beetles and caterpillars may feed on leaves. Diseases such as downy mildew are a problem for seedlings more than mature plants.
Harvest: About 60 days to maturity. Cut stalks off an inch or two from the base. Regularly removing the large outer leaves keeps the plant producing new ones. Swiss chard will produce into early winter if protected with a row cover.
Uses: Eat tender young leaves in salads, and mature leaves cooked. There are about seven calories in one cup, zero fat and 77 mg sodium. A cup provides 44% of daily recommended Vitamin A, 18% of Vitamin C, 7% of Magnesium, 3% of Potassium and Iron, and 2% of dietary fiber.
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