One of the most attractive plants in my garden has nothing to do with flowers, it’s ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris cicla). ‘Bright Lights’ has multi-colored stems and leaf ribs in yellow, pink, red, orange and white, with dark green leaves. Because it’s so attractive, I’ve
started growing it among the flowers. Plus, it’s an easy green to grow and versatile in the kitchen. The young leaves are good in salads. Older leaves can be sauteed in stir fries, or tossed in stews and soups. Unlike other spring greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard doesn’t bolt (form a flower stalk) in the heat, so it makes a great summer green.
When to Plant
Sweet chard is a beet without the root ball. Like beets, it loves cool weather, so sow seeds a few weeks before your last frost date, usually May.
Where to Plant
Swiss chard can tolerate some shade and still produce edible greens. Give it at least 2- to 3-hours of direct sun. For bigger plants, planting in full sun is best. The plants grow best on fertile, well-drained soil. If you have heavy clay soil, consider building an 8-inch tall, 3-feet wide raised wide to plant Swiss chard.
How to Plant
Soak seed overnight in warm water before planting to start the germinate process. Like beets, Swiss chard seeds are actually dried fruits containing a number of seeds, so don’t be surprised if you see 2 or 3 plants coming up from one seed. Amend the soil with compost before planting. Sow seeds 2 inches apart in rows spaced 2 feet apart. You can also mix some Swiss chard seeds when sowing your salad mixes and harvest the chard as baby greens.
Care and Maintenance
Because you’ll get multiple plants per seeds, it’s important to thin Swiss chard seedlings once they’re 4 inches tall, leaving the healthiest seedlings spaced about 1 foot apart. Use the thinnings in salads.
Keep the soil moist and weed free by adding a layer of an organic mulch such straw or untreated grass clippings around plants. When the seedlings are 6 inches tall, fertilizer with fish emulsion to help them grow faster. Fertilize again in midsummer.
Swiss chard plants are attacked by many of the same pests as spinach and beets such as aphids, flea beetles and leaf miners. Spray insecticidal soap for aphids and cover plants with a floating row cover to stop flea beetles and leaf miners from attacking.
Start picking the outer Swiss chard leaves when they’re 5 inches tall. If growing Swiss chard in salad mix, harvest greens when they are only a few inches tall. Keep harvesting outer leaves as needed and new leaves will keep growing from the center of the plant. Swiss chard can take a light frost and still keep growing, but before a killing freeze in fall, harvest the whole plant.
‘Bright Lights’ is the obvious choice for the most colorful variety, but you can also get varieties with single colored stems and leaf veins, such as ‘Bright Yellow’ and ‘Rhubarb’, as well. ‘Fordhook Giant’ produces large leaves and white stems.
Excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.