Swiss Chard (Leaf Beet)

Swiss Chard

These colourful leafy greens belong to the Chenopodioideae family, which also includes beets and spinach. Swiss chard is much easier to grow than spinach. It thrives in any soil and has much better resistance to bolting during dry weather.

Most varieties overwinter reasonably well. A single spring sowing can provide fresh leaves from July through to the following year. The coloured stalks and leaves of many varieties are decorative enough to grace the flower border.

How to Cook >> Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: Rich, fertile soil is best.

Conditions: Full sun or light shade.

Ease of Cultivation: Easy to grow in any soil.

Type: Leafy Vegetable

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

When to Sow: mid spring to late summer.

Germination Time: 10-14 days.

Time to Maturity: 12 weeks.

Planting and Growing Chard

Chards covers a range of leafy vegetables known by many common names, including ruby chard, spinach beet, leaf beet, sea kale, silver beet and perpetual spinach. True spinach is prone to bolting in dry weather but the chards and beets are fairly trouble free. They will last in the ground for over a year as cut and grow again, so a small row is all you need.

This highly decorative vegetable is perfect for borders and containers. Providing all year round colour and good nutrition.

Preparation

Chards prefer a fertile, moisture retentive well cultivated soil to thrive well but will grow in almost any soil, even poor ones.

Follow standard crop rotation rules by sowing in a different place each spring to maintain healthy plants. Choose a sunny sheltered site. Prepare the bed the previous autumn by digging in plenty of well rotted manure or compost. Chards prefer alkaline conditions, so add lime if the pH is below 6.5.

Apply a general purpose fertilizer two weeks before sowing. Finely rake and firm the soil before sowing or planting.

When to Sow

Sow from the end of April to the end August.

Direct sow, 1in (2.5cm) deep in rows around 16in (40cm) apart. Gradually thin plants to 8in (20cm) apart.

Alternatively, sow them a few weeks earlier in modules, in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame. Transplant when large enough to handle. Spacing 8in (20cm) apart.

Leaf beets also grow well in large pots and containers. So if you like your leafy greens handy, keep a pot near the kitchen or on the patio for easy access.

Taking Care of Chard

Keep the bed weed-free and well watered in dry weather. Remove any flower buds as soon as they appear.

A spring or summer sowing should provide leaves right through to the following June, when the tired plants can be dug up to make way for the next crop.

Cloche in November for harvesting during the winter months.

Pests and Diseases

Generally trouble free, except for slug damage to young leaves.

Harvesting Chard

Harvest approximately 8 to 12 weeks after sowing (depending on variety). Pick leaves regularly to encourage fresh growth. Don't harvest all the leaves at one time but remove a few of the outer leaves from each plant.

Because chard can be harvested fresh, all year round, there should be no need to store it.

How to Cook Swiss Chard

The sweet stalks (chard) and peppery leaves can be steamed as a vegetable or eaten raw in salads when young.

Steam the fleshy leaves and stalks for 20 minutes or chop them into sections and boil for 15 minutes.

Nutritional Value

Swiss chard is a good source of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, sodium, phosphorus and vitamins A C E and K.

Popular Varieties of Chard

A wide selection of varieties can be found in most seed catalogues, in a range of vibrant leaf and stem colours. Many are ready to harvest in just 60 days from sowing. Average height: 20in (50cm), spread 16in (40cm).

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' has stems ranging in colour from red, pink, purple, green, orange and yellow, crowned with large leaves of green or bronze. Mild flavour packed with nutritional content. Perfect for growing in the vegetable garden or ornamental borders. Available from Van Meuwen.

Swiss Chard 'Bright Yellow' broad golden stalks topped with green foliage provide a colourful addition to the vegetable garden. Slow to bolting and winter hardy. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Fantasy' one of the most flavoursome red chards with a mild, juicy and delicious taste. Succession sow from spring into summer to enjoy as 'baby leaf' or as mature leaves. Good tolerance to downy mildew. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Fire Fresh' fresh dark green leaves contrast well with striking crimson stems. Good flavour. Long cropping period. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Five Colour Silverbeet' provides a colourful mix of vibrant stems and leaves. Has a juicy, mild flavour when steamed, or as tender baby leaves in salads. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Fordhook Giant' is a classic Burpee-bred chard, heat tolerant with a heavy yield. The large puckered, shiny, dark green leaves can be steamed and eaten like spinach. The tall thick pale stems can be chopped and cooked like celery or used to add crunch to salads and stir fries. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Green Wave' is similar to perpetual spinach beet but with a milder-taste. The young leaves are delicious in salads and stir fries.. Use mature leaves in the same way as chard and spinach. Good bolt resistance. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'Lucullus' is not the most decorative of forms but it produces an abundance of broad, tasty leaves and succulent white stems. More flavoursome than spinach. The flower stalks can also be cooked and eaten like sprouting broccoli. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

Swiss Chard 'White Silver' said to have the best flavour of all chard varieties. It can be grown as baby salad leaves or left to mature with thick, white, juicy stems and delicious spinach like leaves. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

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