While we all know Swiss Chard / Silverbeet as a vegetable, being such a great addition to any vegie patch. On my first trip to to France, I also discovered it’s value, in particular the coloured varieties, as an ornamental in flower gardens. The Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, is the first place I think of when reminiscing about such beautiful displays. To this day I recall walking through the gates for the first time, when my eyes were automatically drawn toward a stunning vision of rich reds and greens. I had never seen Swiss Chard used in such displays before.
Description – Swiss chard, which some people mistake for spinach, is actually a member of the beetroot family. The ribbed stems come in a variety of colours, white (the most common) yellow, orange, pink and red (rainbow chard) and a very deep red (ruby chard). The stems support large crinkly deep green leaves and both the stalks and the leaves are edible. The green leaves are normally separated from the stalks when being prepared for cooking, as the rich green leaves require much less time to cook than the stalks.
Growing – You can either purchase seedlings, or grow your own from seed. Seedlings can be planted from early spring to Autumn in the temperate and colder areas, and all year around in the tropics. Swiss chard needs full sun and prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil that has been prepared with compost and well-rotted animal manure. I use a combination of horse and sheep manure along with compost, in our garden. Why a combination of the horse and sheep manures – it is what my Uncle Paul recommended, so it’s what I do! A fortnightly feed of liquid fertilizer will also ensure a ready supply.
For those without a vegie patch, I have successfully grown Swiss Chard in pots so if you are restricted to a balcony or a courtyard you can grow it too.
Crop Type: Cool Season
Soil: Rich, moist, well-drained soil, but will grow in most places. Position: Sunny or light shade. Frost tolerant: Will tolerate light frost. Feeding: Not normally required but can benefit from a fortnightly feed of liquid fertilizer Companions: Onion, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, strawberry and turnip. Spacing: Single Plants: 35cm each way (minimum) Rows: 30cm with 40cm minimum row gap Sow and Plant: Seed is best soaked for a few hours/overnight before sowing. Sow seed about 12mm deep directly in the garden in early spring when soil temperature is at least 10°C. Seed can also be started in seed containers indoors 5-6 weeks before transplanting out. Watering: Keep well watered in dry seasons. Germination: 5-14 days. Harvesting: 50-70 days. Succession Planting: Not required
Harvesting – To harvest Swiss Chard, pick the larger leaves from the outside of the plant, simply by breaking the stalks downwards and sideways at the same time. Harvest regularly, but leave 4 or 5 leaves on the plant. The plants will keep producing and keep you supplied with this wonderful green all season, so no need to plant again until next season.
Seed Saving – Seed from the beet family cross pollinate so if you want to save seed of a particular variety it is best not to allow any other beet varieties to run up to seed at the same time.
At the end of the growing season, the plant sends up a centre shoot which will become a flower spike and cork like seeds will form along the spike. When the seeds dry they will turn brown. To harvest the seeds, simply cut the spike from the plant and remove the seeds by by running your fingers along the spike to dislodge the seeds. Leave the seeds in a brown paper bag or an open container to completely dry, before bagging, tagging and sharing. The seeds will be at there best for 2 years, after which they may not germinate so well.
Labels – I have been making labels for the seeds that I save. If you wish, you might like to click here for for a downloadable pdf to label seeds that you have saved.
Uses – Soups, sides, omelettes, gratins, pasta dishes…