Swiss Chard – April Gardening Tips from The Culinary View

Tips for your Garden in April

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

By April, we are well into Spring and the vegetable garden is transitioning from cool to warm season vegetables. Many of the crops that have been growing through the winter have been harvested or they have bolted and been removed. One hardy leafy green that will remain in the garden for quite a bit longer is Swiss Chard.

Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris) is a biennial leafy green that we grow as an annual. Closely related to beets and spinach, chard has been recorded as being grown as a food and ornamental since at least 350 BC. Despite the name, Swiss chard is native to the eastern Mediterranean region not Switzerland. Dark, leafy green vegetables are among the most nutrient-dense foods and chard certainly fits that description.  Chard is a good source of fiber and a host of vitamins, minerals and anti oxidants.

Chard is not very demanding as to growing conditions but like most vegetables prefers rich well drained soil and 8 hours or more of sunlight. Seeds germinates well in cool soils and the plants are also easily transplanted . Chard is a long season cut-and-come-again vegetable – individual leaves can be harvested or the whole plant can be cut 3 inches above the soil and it will re-grow.   While not quite as cold tolerant as spinach and kale , chard will get through the mid 20’s with only a bit of leaf burn and will still be productive in warm temperatures that have forced most other cool season crops to bolt. Especially in the cool season, chard has practically no pest or disease problems. Overall, I put Swiss chard in the same category as leaf lettuce and Asian greens as being very easy for even a first time gardener to grow.

I direct seed chard in the fall garden usually in late September to early October and again as needed through the cool season and into the Spring – as late as the end of March. Chard is a rather remarkable green in that it can grow quite well throughout the winter but is also able to do well in fairly warm conditions. In fact, chard will produce almost all year if kept harvested. I usually remove the plants by late June however because the truly hot days of summer tend to produce rather tough leaves.

In addition to being edible, chard is a very attractive plant and makes a great ornamental. The plant will stand 2 feet tall or more and the broad colorful leaves -often with contrasting veins and stems (petioles) – are quite striking. The variety Bright Lights was an All American Selection in 1998. This variety features plants that come in a rainbow of stem colors including red, white, orange, purple, gold and pink with leaves that range from green to bronze. The most productive variety in our garden has been Fordhook Giant – a vigorous plant with dark green leaves and white veins and stems. Not as colorful as Bright Lights but attractive none the less.

To me, the flavor of chard is very much like a mild spinach with just a bit of the earthy flavor of beets. Young leaves are a great addition to salads and larger leaves make a good substitute for spinach and even kale in most recipes. Chard pairs well with garlic and with beans in a hearty soup or pasta dish. Chard is also a natural to use as a wrapper for rolls – like cabbage rolls. The stems of chard can get quite large and are usually cooked longer than the leaves or used in a different dish altogether. Some eastern Mediterranean dishes use cooked chard stems as an ingredient blended into hummus. The stems also make good refrigerator pickles.

Make some room in your garden for this wonderful, healthful vegetable and enjoy it as a nutritious food and as an attractive ornament.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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