Leaf beet (or Perpetual spinach), Rainbow chard, Ruby chard, Seakale beet, Spinach beet, Swiss chard…’tis all a variation of the same vegetable, a close relative to the beet. It is a sturdy, savory green that tastes equally delicious raw in salads as it does wilted as a side dish – or baked into a particularly delicious strata dish involving eggs, cheese, sausage, and bread.
Need a little color in your garden or on your deck? Look no further, a rainbow of chard is at your fingertips:
Best Climate to Grow: Chard grows very well in most climates, and tends to withstand warmer temperatures that cause other leafy greens to bolt.
Light Requirements: Lots of sun is best, but can handle filtered sunlight or partial shade.
Soil Requirements: Fertile, humus-rich soil that retains moisture, as dry soil will cause it to bolt. Amend with compost or rotted manure during the Fall prior to planting in the Spring.
Feeding and Water Requirements: As long as the soil is in good condition when the chard is planted, additional feeding shouldn’t be necessary. The soil must be kept moist at all times to avoid bolting, so drip irrigation in conjunction with a thick layer of compost mulch is recommended.
When to Plant: Sow directly in the ground, as chard does not tolerate transplanting well, beginning in late Spring clear through about 2 months prior to the first Fall frost date (chard planted later will overwinter and be ready for harvest the following Summer, if properly protected from the cold with cloches or garden tunnels).
Planting Depth and Spacing: Sow chard seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in rows that are 18 inches apart, or broadcast and thin to 4 inches all around when the once the seedlings are about an inch tall. When they grow to about 4 inches tall, carefully thin them to 18 inches – they do grow rather large and bushy and will need the room.
Container Requirements: Chard is an ideal container vegetable, as it is at once ornamental and edible. It will grow well in medium to large containers that are at least 8 inches deep. Take extra care to make sure the soil does not dry out in order to avoid bolting. Drip irrigation specifically for containers and thick mulching with compost will ensure that your container soil remains consistently moist.
Harvesting and Storage: The best way to harvest chard is to regularly slice off the outer leaves and stalks with a sharp knife, which will encourage new growth from the center. Don’t wait until the outer leaves are too large, though, or they will have become somewhat bitter. Alternatively, you can make a clean slice across all of the stalks about 2 inches above the ground, and it will grow back in several weeks to harvest again. If you plan on harvesting that way, you will definitely want to make succession plantings all season long so that you have a steady chard harvest.
Harvesting Seeds: Let your chard dry out and it will bolt. Harvest the flower stalks when they have completely dried. You will need to crush the seed pods by putting them in a bag and using a mallet or a rolling pin that you don’t mind damaging. You can always use your boots, too. Once the pods have been crushed, shake them back and forth in a mesh strainer to separate the seeds from the pods and other debris. Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Pests to Monitor: Aphids, Beet Leafminers, Cabbage Loopers, Cabbage Worms, Slugs and Snails. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.