Chard, scientific name Beta cicla, is a leafy vegetable that is a cultivated descendant of the sea beet. It is a very good alternative to spinach as it is easier to grow, with Chard able to withstand water shortages as well as higher temperatures.
It is known by numerous names such as Swiss chard, Leaf beet, and Spinach beet. Plants are upright and can be found as clump, cushion, or mound forms. Foliage is typically medium or dark green, red, purple, or yellow. Chard can reach from 1 to 3 feet (30 to 90 cm) in height, with a spread of up to 2 feet (60 cm).
Chard by Market Manager (CC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/37884983@N03/)
Chard is an annual (or a biennial that is grown as an annual).
It is an excellent source of vitamins (especially A, K, and C) and minerals (magnesium, iron, potassium, and manganese) and its stalks are of many different colors.
Swiss chard is a prolific grower that can tolerate inattention, poor soil, and is able to withstand mild freezes and frost.
It is a great-tasting vegetable and both its leaves and stalk can be eaten. The leaves are normally cooked in a similar manner to spinach, and they can also be used as a fresh salad. Its stalks are cut up and cooked in different dishes.
Chard varieties typically sown in the spring season to be ready for a late summer harvest. Although easy to grow, there should be proper protection of the crop with a cloche. If growing for leaves, these are best to harvested during autumn and winter. When growing for whole plants then plant successively throughout late summer. Though in reality the growing season of this vegetable is dependent on its variety—some ideal for autumn harvest while others are best harvested during spring.
Leafy crops such as Swiss chard are ideal to grow in rows on the vegetable or allotment patch. They can also be grown at the front of a flower border as they have brightly colored stems and striking glossy leaves.
A couple of weeks before sowing; dig in some organic matter. This process helps soil aeration and will help to improve soil moisture retention. Make sure that any large clods of soil are broken up by using a rake and fork, thus obtaining a fine soil structure ideally suited for planting Chard seeds. Choose a spot that has some sun, although Swiss chard can also grow in partial shade. The soil should be well-drained, rich in organic matter, with soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Chards do not grow well in soil that is too acidic.
Swiss chard by woodleywonderworks (CC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/)
Sow Swiss chards in early spring so as to avoid final hard frosts. Note that some varieties (Ruby red; Rhubarb) should only be planted after the last frost.
This class of vegetable is typically sown directly into the soil and doesn’t need to be initially prepared in seed trays for later transplanting.
Sow the seeds (up to four years old) in rows that are about 18 inches (45 cm) apart; the seeds should be planted at around an inch (25 cm) deep.
The germination process normally takes around one week at an optimal temperature of 85°F (29°C), though it can germinate at temperatures as low as 40°F (4.5°C) and as high as 95°F (35°C).
Chards will need thinning to about six to nine inches between plants. When they are left until around six inches in height before thinning, the thinned plants are normally treated as the early harvests and the young leaves will be extremely tasty and tender.
Once seedlings have reached around half an inch (1.25 cm), thin out to leave only the strongest seedlings, thus allowing them a lot of space to grow. Chards will need to have around 12 inches (30 cm) of space between plants and spinach beet 15 inches (37 cm). Spread is typically from 6 to 24 inches (15 to 60 cm).
For ideal Chard care the soil should be kept free from any weeds (provide mulch to help prevent weeds) and should be watered every two weeks, depending on the weather and temperature. Adding a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer to the mix is also beneficial to the plants.
Although there are no serious diseases that are found in this plant, some pests such as leaf miners and aphids can cause serious attacks to chard. Since leaf miners feed on the inside of the leaf surfaces, carefully remove the leaves that have significant leaf miner damage. Look underneath the leaves for rows of pearl-white eggs and destroy them if there are any. Control aphids by pinching out the affected leaves or simply hose them with a blast of soapy water to remove them.
Also be on the look out for Leaf spot and Downy mildew.
Swiss chards are ready for harvest from about 55 to 60 days from sowing. The outside leaves should be picked as early as three inches (7.5 cm) long and before the leaves grow to 10 inches (25 cm) long. Avoid picking up longer leaves – older leaves will have an earthly flavor. When harvesting the whole plant, make sure to cut it back to around three inches (7.5) above the soil so that it can grow back.
Since chard is a leafy vegetable, it is best to wrap it with newspaper before placing it in the refrigerator. It is advisable to eat or cook freshly gathered chards to get its best flavor.