Swiss chard is the beautiful stepsister of the popular, attention grabbing kale. It’s easy to grow, nutritious, and produces a bountiful crop all winter long. While many seek out kale’s tough, hearty character, the overlooked chard is a softer, gentler, and arguably more beautiful green. It's not chard to add this amazing vegetable to your garden - it's easy!
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) is from the beet family (Chenopodiaceae), which accounts for its softer and less fibrous leaf. I’ve read it’s a “nutritional powerhouse” and a million sources tout its health benefits from regulating blood pressure, to curing cancer, to improving athletic performance. It can’t hurt to add chard to your diet; however, I suggest you consult your physician before you apply it to all that ails you.
In the San Francisco garden, Swiss chard can be planted all year around. You can directly sow or start seeds indoors. I prefer starting my seeds indoors because I think it gives the plants a head start against pests and poor weather conditions. In Pam Peirce’s Golden Gate Gardening, Pam suggests sowing chard seeds ½” deep and 2” apart and thinning as they grow. Since I prefer an especially large variety of Swiss chard, I space my plants about a 1½’ apart. Follow the seed packet for spacing and depth requirements particular to the variety you choose.
If you aren’t growing chard already, any variety will be a great addition to your garden. The more mild flavored varieties tend to have the whiter stems. My favorites include:
Swiss chard can be harvested continually with the outer leaves being collected and the inner ones left to grow for future cultivation. Twist the leaf as you pull it off the stock for a clean break. The twist and pull method is better than cutting off the leaves. Cutting the chard leaves behind a mid-rib stub that can easily rot on the plant. Swiss chard is a “use it or lose it” vegetable. Its extremely perishable, and I only harvest mine when I plan to eat it the same day. Despite its fleeting shelf-life, chard is workhorse in the garden. Because I'm gardening in a temperate coastal climate, my chard plants can survive and be harvested off of for several years to come.
Swiss chard is easy to grow, but falls easily prey to ravenous pests. I mostly have to combat leafminers during periods of warm weather, and this fall I also had an unusually big problem with cutworms. Check out Leafminers on Chard to help you to prepare for these buggers.
I love chard because my kids will eat it, it is one of the few vegetables in hot pink, and I can easily grow it in my San Francisco garden all year long. I’m also hoping this “nutritional powerhouse” will heal that rough patch of skin on my hand, mend my broken heart, and offset the carbon emissions from my trip to Seattle last weekend. Take that, kale.