Swiss Chard: The Ultimate 'Cut and Come Again' Vegetable

Margene Whitler Hucek
Tuesday, 30th July 2019

Swiss chard is rich in vitamins and antioxidants, survives in hot and cold weather, is easy to grow and doesn't needed successional sowing - the perfect vegetable!

Swiss chard is a beet that yields large leaves and crunchy stalks rather than an edible root. Long after heat-sensitive spinach and lettuces have bolted and gone to seed, Swiss chard is at its peak. An impressive plant reaching up to two feet in height, Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris, belongs to the same family as spinach and is similar in taste.

There is no need for successive sowing of Swiss chard as you can harvest plants continuously beginning with the first thinning in early spring to harvesting the outer leaves as the plant matures. New stalks will continue to come from the middle of the plant until there is a hard freeze. It is one of few vegetables that tolerates both hot and cold temperatures. Harvest either by cutting just the outer stalks with scissors or a sharp knife or cut a whole young plant off an inch or two above the soil. It will regrow.

Although one might assume by its name that Swiss chard is native to Switzerland, it comes from the Mediterranean region where it was gathered and used for both food and medicinal purposes. Swiss chard is rich in antioxidants and vitamins K, A, C, E, as well as several B vitamins. It is also a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium. Beets that have large fleshy roots were unknown until the Christian Era.

Swiss chard does best if it receives at least six hours of sunlight. Sow seeds in rich, well-draining soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 as soon as the soil can be worked, while the weather is still cool. Sow seeds one inch deep and four inches apart in rows eighteen inches apart. Seedlings emerge in seven to ten days. When seedlings are one to two inches tall, thin so plants are eight to twelve inches apart, then apply an organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weed growth. The remaining plants will grow from twelve to twenty-four inches high, depending on the cultivar. Irrigate during dry spells. Swiss chard, with its large fan-like leaves that feature lighter colored ribs and stalks that are either white, yellow, red, or orange, is attractive enough to add to a mixed flower border.

Swiss chard is an easy plant to grow with few pest or disease problems. Rarely, they may be attacked by aphids or mites. If so, a strong blast of water from a hose should knock them off the plant.

If you see disfigured leaves with ash-gray spots that have purple edges, it is a sign of cercospora leaf spot. A mildew-like growth on the foliage is an indication of downy mildew. If you notice any leaves with these diseases, promptly remove and destroy. Make sure that remaining plants have adequate sunlight and ventilation. Avoid over-head watering.

Swiss chard is a versatile vegetable. Thinnings add zing to spring salads and its leaves and stalks bring color and richness to stir-fries and soups throughout the growing season. A favorite vegetarian lasagne of mine features Swiss chard (recipe below).

I also like to add Swiss chard to quiche and scrambled eggs, or I steam it with a little olive oil and seasonings. Harvested leaves will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two, but like all vegetables, are best when freshly picked.

Swiss chard will grow well until a hard freeze. Even then the plant may survive. Last year, when temperatures dipped to zero degrees here in Central Virginia, USA, the plants I grew in a sheltered spot looked dead, but with warm spring weather new leaves sprouted.

Swiss chard has been called a glamorous green, and rightly so. Its colorful stems and shiny big leaves stand out in the garden.  Even if you don’t garden, consider growing this plant  on your deck or porch. Six hours of sun would be best, but it does tolerate partial shade. Then, you, too, can enjoy both its beauty and health benefits.

Varieties

Days to maturity indicate when full height is expected from the date of direct seeding. Swiss chard can be harvested throughout its growing period beginning with early thinnings.

‘Fordhook Giant’  is one of the varieties that I grow. Introduced in the 1920’s, it is a heavy-yielding selection with thick white stalks and crinkly dark green leaves. One of the largest Swiss chard varieties, it reaches two feet tall. Most cold-hardy.  Matures in 60 days.

‘Golden Chard’ leaves are emerald green with yellow stems and veins. The yellow intensifies as it matures. A specialty heirloom, it grows to 20 to 24 inches tall and has a mild, somewhat sweet, taste. Matures in 60 days.

‘Bright Lights’ is another chard that I grow. An attractive plants that adds summer color to the garden, individual stems are red, yellow, orange, gold, or white. Leaves are burgundy or green with veins matching stem color. Plants grow to 20 inches tall. Matures in 55 days.

‘Rhubarb’ is a red heirloom that grew in French gardens. Its stalks and veins are red and leaves are green. Plants grow to 24 inches tall. Matures in 60 days.

‘Orange Chiffon’ has emerald green leaves with tangerine-orange midribs and stems. Plants grow to 24 inches tall. Matures in 30 to 60 days. 

Easy Swiss Chard lasagne

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Ingredients:

1 package oven-ready lasagne (15 pieces)
6 cups fresh Swiss chard (boiled until tender, drained and squeezed of excess water)
2 x 24- ounce cans of tomatoes sauce
2 cups of ricotta cheese
¼ cups parmesan cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 egg
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano leaves

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F (190C).

Lightly oil a 9 x 13 inch baking dish

In a bowl combine tomato sauce with herbs.

In another bowl, combine ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella and parmesan cheese with a beaten egg. Set aside.

Cover the bottom of the baking dish with one cup of sauce and spread evenly.

Top with 3 sheets of lasagne. The sheets will expand while baking to the ends of the dish.

Cover the sheets with 1 cup of sauce. Spread ¾ cup of the cheese mixture and ¼ cup of  shredded mozzarella.

Repeat for three more layers.

For the final layer, top with three sheets of lasagna. Cover with sauce and remaining cheese mixture and shredded mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes before cutting.

Serves 6 to 8.

Sautéed Swiss Chard

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Ingredients:

14 pieces of Swiss chard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, depending on your taste, thinly sliced
Salt to taste

Method:

Wash. Swiss chard well under running water. Cut stems off of leaves.

Chop leaves. Cut stems into ½-inch pieces.

Heat oil in large skillet, add garlic slices.

Cook over medium heat until garlic just begins to color.

Add chard stems, season with salt.

When stems feel tender, add leaves.

Continue cooking until leaves and stems are tender - usually 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and serve. Excellent with chicken or pork dishes.

Useful resources

Video: Patrick Whitefield and the hungry gap

Vegetables to grow in winter

Plants and recipes for the hungry gap

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