Swiss Chard: a Beautiful Tasty Green that Grows Well in Texas
Swiss Chard is a great green to grow in Texas because it is much more cold hardy and heat resistant to bolting or going to seed than lettuce. It is also high in vitamins C and A, calcium, potassium, and iron and tastes somewhat like asparagus. It does contain a little oxalic acid like spinach and collards.
Some Varieties of Swiss Chard:
Bright Lights has color stalks that range from bright yellow, pink, and light red/purple.
Ruby Red has a dark red stalk.
Fordhook Giant has a white stalk and is taller than the other varieties and more cold hardy.
Swiss Chard can be directly seeded in the garden in early spring for a spring/summer crop, or in Fall in mid-September through October for a winter/spring crop.
Swiss Chard prefers cooler weather (60's ideal), so I plant my Swiss Chard in the fall for a longer harvest. Plant the seeds 1/2" deep in well-drained, humus rich soil in partial sun and water well. The seedlings will emerge in 5-7 days.
Once the plants have at least two sets of leaves, space them 8" to 12" apart.
You can either thin out (pull up) the plants to create this space between them, or lift out the small extra plants with a dining fork and transplant them elsewhere (such as a pot) or small pots to give away to friends. They grow well in pots. Plant only one plant per 10" diameter pot (with a drain hole). Always water plants after transplanting.
Watering Swiss Chard:
Swiss Chard likes moisture and good drainage, so don't let them get too dry. You can also add mulch to help maintain the moisture level. It is good to water in the evening during the hot months, and in the late morning or afternoon during cooler months.
As stated earlier, Swiss Chard is a cold hardy vegetable. If temperatures of 22 degrees or lower, or ice or snow are expected, you will need to cover your Swiss Chard with a blanket, towel or floating row cover fabric until the temperatures are warmer. In Texas, this usually means covering it in the evening before the sun goes down and uncovering it in late morning the next day.
Harvesting Swiss Chard:
Even though Swiss Chard matures in 50 to 60 days, it can be harvested for many months (especially the fall planted crop). Swiss Chard grows 2 feet tall, but you can start harvesting the outer leaves when they are only 6" tall. Harvest outside leaves as you need them by cutting them off at the ground level with scissors or a paring knife.
Harvesting only outer leaves as you need them (instead of harvesting the entire plant at once), allows the plant to continue to produce new leaves from the center. If you do decide to harvest the whole plant, cut it to 3" above the soil and it will begin bearing leaves again from the center.
Prolonging Your Harvest:
Trim off flower stalks to extend your harvest. Plants will start to try to flower/bolt/go to seed as the temperatures become hotter. When plants are allowed to flower, they produce less edible and tasty leaves because they are putting all of their energy into creating seeds.
Store washed Swiss Chard leaves in a bag in the refrigerator.
A dozen Swiss Chard plants is all that is needed to provide food for a family of 4 because they are always growing leaves from the center for a continual harvest.
Swiss Chard Recipes:
Swiss Chard is great chopped and eaten raw in a salad. The leaves can also be used in the same way as spinach in omelets, quiches, enchiladas, casseroles, and lasagna. Or, you can just sauté the leaves over low to medium heat for a few minutes and serve with vinaigrette dressing.
There are no real pest problems with Swiss Chard. I find an occasional caterpillar which I remove by hand. I guess sparrows are the only pest I have encountered with Swiss Chard (and only when temperatures are warmer). Sparrows hover over the plants and eat the leaves one bite at a time leaving only stalks. You can deter sparrows from eating your Swiss Chard leaves by covering the rows with netting. I have found that tulle, a reasonably priced netting fabric available in fabric stores works well and it does not entangle lizards or birds like netting with larger holes.
Ornamental Uses of Swiss Chard:
The beautiful colors and patterns of Swiss Chard leaves make them a great choice to plant with flowers too. Many gardeners plant Swiss Chard and pansies together in the fall. The Swiss Chard is taller than pansies, so it should be planted behind them.
Planting Time: Fall or Spring
Light: partial sun
Seed Planting Depth: 1/2"
Soil: well-drained humus rich
Spacing: 8" to 12"
Height: up to 2'
Garden Use: food crop and ornamental
Culinary Use: salads, use in recipes like spinach.