Chard is probably one of my most favorite garden greens. It is versatile, grows well in most places and throughout most seasons. It is considered a biennial meaning it will grow for two years and flowers the second year for seed production. Chard is another cut and come again plant, meaning you can harvest it through out the seasons and it will continue to produce new leaves. Just harvest about ⅓ of the outer leaves from each plant for the amount you need. Taking leaves from multiple plants ensures the you don’t stress the plant and it can continue to make more leaves. Chard also goes by many other names, leaf beet, spinach beet, Swiss beet, sea kale, sea kale beet, silver beet and Indian spinach. Chard is native to the Mediterranean region where the juice was used as a decongestant and the leaves were used as a laxative in Ancient Greek and Roman communities.
Chard is usually grown as an annual and considered a cool season crop, though as mentioned before it does well in most seasons. Chard is in the beet family (Chenopodiaceae) which is included in the Amaranthaceae family. Chard comes in many colors, which add so much beauty to any garden. I love growing “Five Color Silver Beet” and “Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard” in my kitchen garden. On average they will grow to be 12-24 inches tall with a 6 inch width. Their tap roots can be extremely long and spread wide under the soil. You can plant 4 per square foot when doing square foot gardening or intensive garden (I plant Intensively). When direct sowing seeds, plant seeds at a depth of a ½ inch. Chard will take around 5-21 days to germinate. You can start seeds indoors 4 weeks before last frost date and plant outside on last frost date. You definitely could try earlier since it can tolerate light frosts, but it is not freeze tolerant. (We get hard freezes in Denver up until and sometimes after our last frost date.) If you do plant it out earlier make sure you use some sort of frost protection for hard freezes. You can direct sow on or just before your last frost date for the same reason. You can continue to succession plant until 10 -12 weeks before your first frost date in the fall.
Chard is full of nutrients. It is considered an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, carotenes, dietary fiber and chlorophyll. It also an excellent source of many minerals including potassium, iron, magnesium and manganese. Chard is also a good source of many other vitamins and minerals beyond the ones I listed here. With all of these nutritional benefits chard is considered a powerful anti-cancer food. It is higher in sodium than other garden greens, which helps give it its salty flavor. Chard contains oxalic acid, which some people need to avoid. You can blanch the chard as with any other green and throw out the blanching water to help reduce the oxalic acid by about a ⅓.
You can use both the stalk and leaves in cooking. I suggest de-stemming the leaves and cooking those separately or adding the stems first to your pan because they will require a longer cook time than the leaves. If you do not like the texture of the stems or they won’t work for your recipe, add them to your vegetable broth. As far as cooking the stems, treat them like asparagus. The leaves cook much like spinach and can be used in place of spinach and vice versa is most recipes. They have roughly the same cooking time too. You can blanch, steam, braise, sauté, add to soups, stews, bake, pickle and treat it like any other garden green. When using raw chard in a salad I suggest mincing or cutting into very small pieces because it tends to be a bit rougher than spinach. Red stemmed chard will color your food the same way beets do. Some flavor pairings that work well with chards salty and slightly bitter flavor include: beans, potatoes, lentils, onions, garlic, olive oil, lemon, cumin and coriander, pine nuts, tomatoes, vinegars, chickpeas, currants, ginger, cilantro, pastas, stocks, thyme, eggs, zucchini and so much more!
Chard has so many benefits from is versatility in the kitchen, its nutritional benefits or how long it can grow in your garden that I hope you can see why it is one of my favorite garden greens. I would love to know your favorite ways to use chard. Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any questions about growing or cooking chard, please ask me, I would love to help you!
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