Is swiss chard a perennial?

All About Growing Swiss Chard

When to Plant

In spring, sow directly in the garden two weeks before your last frost date, or start seeds indoors three to four weeks before your last frost date and set seedlings out just as the last frost passes.

In fall, start seeds about 10 weeks before your first frost date, and set the seedlings out when they are four weeks old.

How to Plant

Prepare a rich, fertile bed by loosening the soil while mixing in compost and a balanced organic fertilizer, applied at label rates. Plant seeds half an inch deep and 3 inches apart. Set out seedlings 12 inches apart. Indoors or out, thin newly germinated seedlings with cuticle scissors instead of pulling them out. Chard seed capsules often contain two or more seeds. If more than one germinates, promptly snip off all but the strongest sprout at the soil line. Gradually thin direct-sown seedlings to 12 inches apart.

Pest and Disease Prevention Tips

  • Cercospora leaf spot is a fungal disease that causes light brown patches surrounded by purple halos to form on leaves of chard, beets, and sometimes spinach. Warm, rainy weather favors outbreaks. Keep plants properly spaced to promote good air circulation and promptly remove any affected leaves.
  • Slugs often chew holes in chard leaves and rasp grooves in the ribs, feeding at night and resting through the day in mulch. Trap them in beer-baited traps, use an iron phosphate slug control product, or try repelling them by surrounding your chard plants with crushed eggshells.
  • Viral diseases cause new growth to be small or distorted, with unusual crinkling of leaves. Plants sometimes outgrow infection. Watch affected plants for a week or two and pull out those that show no signs of improvement.

Harvesting and Storage

Twist off individual outer leaves and compost old leaves that have lost their glossy sheen. Three to five leaves can be picked from mature plants at a time, but be sure to leave the growing crown intact. Frequent picking helps to stimulate the production of new leaves. Rinse leaves with cool water immediately, shake off the excess moisture, and store in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Excess chard is easy to blanch and freeze, just like spinach, and you can dry perfect leaves and use the “flakes” to add color and nutrition to winter soups and stews. Chard stems are sometimes made into fermented pickles, or you can pickle the stems and leaves together with a standard vinegar-sugar brine before sealing the jars in a waterbath canner.

Saving Seeds

Like other biennial plants, chard produces flowers and seeds in the spring of its second year, after it has been through winter. Chard is only winter-hardy to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so in most areas you must dig the plants in fall and replant them in spring if you want to save seed. Through winter, keep the trimmed plants packed in damp sand in your basement or another cool place. Set them out four to six weeks before your last frost date.

Chard is wind-pollinated, so at least six closely spaced plants are needed for good seed set. Look for greenish flowers followed by seed capsules clustered close to the stem. When the stems dry to brown, crush them inside a paper bag, and gather the largest seeds that fall to the bottom. Store them in a cool, dry place. Chard seeds will keep for at least three years, and often longer. If you plant a 10-foot row each year, a packet of seeds will last you three years and bear 10 to 12 pounds of chard each season.

Growing Tips

Weed early and often, because young chard competes poorly with weeds. As the plants gain size, they do a reasonably good job of shading out late-season weeds.

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Mulch heavily to keep the soil cool and moist, and to reduce splashing of soil onto leaves. Water regularly, because dry conditions tend to make Swiss chard’s flavor harsh.

Color up your garden with trios of bright chards planted in intermittent mounds. Station chard in high-visibility spots near the front of the garden. Create maximum contrast by growing chard in close company with fine-textured plants such as carrots, dill, or curly parsley.

Soak seeds overnight in water before planting to ensure strong germination.

Rejuvenate plants in late summer by pulling off old leaves, spreading a little compost over the root zone and drenching with a water-soluble organic fertilizer. They will respond by making a strong comeback in early fall. You can keep picking chard for a few weeks after your first fall frost.

Use shade from taller plants such as sweet corn, tomatoes or sunflowers to filter intense summer sun, which can cause off flavors. Where summers are hot and dry, locate chard on the north or east side of taller plants.

Use a single chard plant as the centerpiece for a small collection of culinary herbs that have been planted together in a broad container.

You can usually twist leaves away from chard plants, but as plants age they push out of the ground a bit, almost like beets. When this happens, it’s better to harvest the leaves with a sharp knife.

For small gardens, consider a perpetual chard or a dwarf variety such as “Pot of Gold.”

In the Kitchen

Chard is two vegetables in one. Cooked chard greens can stand in for spinach in any recipe, and the crisp ribs can be steamed or grilled like asparagus. Or simply chop and cook the greens and ribs together, squeeze out excess water, and use the cooked chard in casseroles, quiches, or as a succulent side dish. In addition to being an excellent source of vitamins A and C and several minerals, chard’s abundance of vitamin K makes it especially valuable for maintaining strong bones.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.

Perennial vegetables: Plant once and eat always

Easy peasy

So good, so early and so effortless… so why aren’t we growing more food that works like this? Planted once, then harvested for ever and a day? Most fruit and herbs are perennial but when it comes to veg, a combination of history and habit seems to dictate a frenzy of planting and sowing from scratch every year.

We copy commercial growers who’ve relied on cheap energy, once provided by horses and now by fossil fuels, to do all the turning of the soil, sowing, weeding, watering, fertilising, harvesting and collecting of seed that goes with growing annual vegetables.

This has reached such an extraordinary state of affairs that the food we buy takes around 10 times the energy to produce as the energy it gives us. According to research carried out by London’s City University (An Inconvenient Truth About Food, Soil Association, 2008), its carbon footprint is huge, due in large part to the use of man-made nitrogen fertilisers – a tonne of which requires one tonne of oil and 108 tonnes of water to make, releasing seven tonnes of greenhouse gases in the process.

Rising prices and dwindling resources are further incentive to grow some of your own food, but if you take out the oil you have to replace it with elbow grease. The alternative is to grow more delicious, low-maintenance, low-energy perennials like asparagus.

Perennials are an increasingly important part of how we feed ourselves and how we garden. They offer the ornamental garden productivity and the productive garden beauty.

Many allotmenters tend to graduate to perennials having served their apprenticeship on annuals; newcomers to edible gardening are often interested in permaculture and low-carbon growing; others who just fancy delicious food without the slog are increasingly starting off with them.

Low carbon food has some compelling arguments going for it – but perhaps the best reason to grow perennial edibles is this: when you can be eating the very best home-grown asparagus, rhubarb, sea kale and garlic cress right now, it’s hard to think of a reason not to.

Plenty of choice

There are dozens of perennial vegetables from every corner of the vegetable world to choose from, and to suit all sizes of garden, including salad leaves, brassicas, roots, onions and edible flowers.

If you’re looking for something architectural, you could do worse than globe artichokes, with their ragged grey/green leaves and towering flowers. It not only looks a treat, but the flesh of the immature flower heads is delicious.

The almost identical cardoon will serve the same ornamental purpose, but it’s the main rib of those huge leaves that makes it to the kitchen. Both can be raised easily from seed or bought as fast-growing, hardy plants.

There are wonderful perennial alternatives to the staples – of the many perennial onions, my favourite is the Egyptian walking onion. You can snip off a few early chive-like leaves, leaving the rest to grow on into spring onions. Pinch some off to enjoy in April and May – the rest will grow taller and begin to develop bulbils on the end of the leaves.

As these grow, the leaves struggle to hold them up and bend slowly to the ground, where the bulbils take root. Harvest a few and allow some to grow into new plants that repeat the cycle as they “walk” around your garden. At the base of the original plant you’ll find shallot-like bulbs, making four harvests every year from the one perennial plant.

And if you’re looking for an alternative to the potato, try oca, another South American tuber that resembles a new potato but tastes a little lemony when just picked, sweetening if matured in the sun, and immune to blight.

There are perennials to harvest at any time of year, but where they really come into their own is early in the season, during the “hungry gap” when few annuals have germinated, never mind grown. This week you could be enjoying garlic cress, sea kale, asparagus and forced rhubarb.

Things of beauty

Generally speaking, perennial vegetables tend to be more beautiful than annuals – or rather, we allow them to be.

Think of day lilies, globe artichokes, cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes – all make a striking presence in the garden, largely because we don’t chop or dig up the whole plant in its prime.

Our relationship with them is quite different from annual veg – it’s in our interest to keep the plant alive and healthy, harvesting a little each year while nurturing the plant for the next.

They’re around for longer, which allows you to include them as a more enduring part of a garden. Being there year-round, in varying states, also broadens their ecological value for a wider range of other organisms.

The soil is also nurtured when growing perennials, as it is rarely, if ever, left exposed to the forces of erosion, rain compaction and nutrient leaching. Digging – which can upset a perfectly balanced soil ecology, expose weed seeds for germination, as well as releasing carbon into the atmosphere – is also minimised. You’ll generally find disease and pest problems much reduced as most perennials out-compete weeds and resist slugs.

I’m not advocating a wholesale move of your garden or allotment over to edible perennials – well, I would but most of you would ignore me – but I am encouraging you to integrate some with the annuals and ornamentals.

Add a few true perennials, some edible prolific self-seeders such as nasturtiums and sweet cicely, along with some cut-and-come-again leaves and you’ll have a productive, beautiful and low carbon garden.

  • For more information on Mark Diacono’s approach to low carbon gardening and a range of unusual edibles by mail order, visit his website at www.otterfarmshop.co.uk

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How To Grow Perpetual Spinach

Harvesting

Swiss Chard can be picked as soon as the leaves are large enough to harvest, usually in four to six weeks.
The time from planting to harvest is 55 to 65 days. Start harvesting chard when the outside leaves are three inches long. Don’t let the leaves get much longer than 10 inches, or they’ll taste earthy.
Either take a few leaves off at a time or cut the entire plant down to three inches and let it grow back. If you harvest the leaves as they grow, the plant will go on producing all season.
Here’s the best thing about Swiss Chard. As the weather cools, the leaves are their tastiest. Swiss Chard tolerates frost and freezes into the upper twenties. Even if a freeze kills off the outer leaves, the inner leaves may be protected. Cut away any frost damaged leaves. You still have chard to pick.

Storage

Store unwashed chard, wrapped in a plastic bag, in the fridge for up to three days.

Cooking

Chard’s leaves can be prepared like spinach, and its stalks like asparagus. In fact, its leaves serve as a good substitute for spinach in most recipes, but they will need to be cooked slightly longer.
Chard may be steamed, sautéed, or braised, and it can be added to soups, stews, and casseroles. The leaves and stems may be cooked and served together, or prepared separately as two different vegetables. The Italians make an egg frittata with chard.
For salads and sandwiches, it’s best to use young, tender leaves. For a simple side vegetable, leaves of medium size can be quickly sautéed—the stalks can be prepared this way, too. Older leaves and stalks are best steamed, boiled, or added to soups, as the stems require a longer cooking time to become tender than the leaves do.
Like other leafy vegetables, chard needs to be thoroughly washed before cooking since sand and other debris tend to nestle in its leaves. Instead of using a colander and running water over the leaves, the best way to remove debris from leafy greens is to dunk and soak them in plenty of water. Place the leaves in a large bowl, pot, or sink filled with cold water. Agitate the leaves one by one, then remove individual leaves by hand and place them in another container. Pour out the water and repeat the procedure until the water is free of debris. If you will be using the greens in a salad, dry them in a spinner.

Cold Hardy Swiss Chard – Can Swiss Chard Grow In Winter

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris var. cicla and Beta vulgaris var. flavescens), also known simply as chard, is a type of beet (Beta vulgaris) that does not produce edible roots but is bred for the tasty leaves. Chard leaves are a nutritious and versatile ingredient for your kitchen. Seed suppliers offer numerous white-stemmed and more colorful varieties of Swiss chard. Winter gardens are a great place to grow chard in climates where it does not get too cold. Read on for more information on caring for Swiss chard in winter.

Can Swiss Chard Grow in Winter?

Swiss chard not only grows well in the hot temperatures of summer, but it also tolerates frost. In fact, chard may actually taste better when it’s grown in cold weather. However, plants will be killed by temperatures below 15 degrees F. (-9 degrees C.). That being said, there are two ways to include Swiss chard in winter gardens:

First, you can plant cold-hardy Swiss chard in spring and again in late summer. The greens will be ready for harvesting about 55 days after planting seeds. Harvest older leaves first to allow smaller leaves to keep growing, and harvest frequently to encourage faster growth of the inner leaves. You can then enjoy a continuous harvest from 55 days after your first planting until several weeks after your region’s first frost date in the fall.

Second, you can take advantage of Swiss chard’s biennial life cycle to get two year’s worth of harvests from one planting. A biennial is a plant that grows for two years before producing seed. If you live in a region where temperatures never drop below 15 degrees F., overwintering Swiss chard is possible.

Plant chard in the first spring and harvest leaves throughout the summer, then keep the chard plants in the garden all winter long. They will begin growing again the following spring, and you can enjoy early spring greens and a second summer’s worth of leaves. To maximize your chances of success, cut leaves at least 3 inches (7.5 cm.) above the ground during the first summer to ensure the plant can grow back.

For spring planting, sow chard 2 to 4 weeks after the last frost: chard plants are frost tolerant only once they’re established. Chard “seeds,” like beet seeds, are actually small clusters containing several seeds. Plant seed clusters one to two inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) apart in 15-inch (38 cm.) rows, and thin to 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm.) apart.

Provide compost or a balanced fertilizer in mid to late summer.

Swiss chard ready for harvesting.
Photo: Bill Kerr

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Swiss chard, in particular, is a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains at least 13 polyphenol antioxidants and is an effective blood sugar regulator.

It is also very high in vitamins K and A, and contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C, as well as magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, iron, choline, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, foliate, selenium and protein, amongst other minerals.

Swiss chard can be harvested over a long period, and will continue to grow new leaves when not harvested for a time. Simply ensure that enough leaves are left on the plant so that it can continue gathering sunlight for growth, or the recovery after picking will be slow.

Planting

Space the plants between 15cm and 20cm apart in rows 30cm apart. The variety of choice is Fordhook Giant, which you can buy in seedling trays from a nursery.

Alternatively, buy packets of different coloured plants. These look attractive in the formal garden, but are not quite as productive as the Fordhook Giant variety.

A second method is to sow direct. Begin by soaking the seed in water overnight for better, quicker germination.

The seed is cheap, and packets usually contain an ample quantity, so sow a little thicker, cover the seed with about 1cm of soil, and thin out the young plants when they are 15cm tall.

These thinnings can be eaten, so they need not go to waste. In cool areas, it’s best to do three plantings a year: at the end of winter, in mid-summer and in late summer. This ensures that you have a steady supply.

If you grow Swiss chard during winter in a frost-prone area, use frost cover to protect the plants.

This works better if it does not touch the plants, so place hoops over the chard before covering it.

In subtropical areas, plant in March so that the plants grow through winter.

Swiss chard does not thrive under hot, humid conditions.

This plant is a heavy feeder. If the soil is not highly fertile with a healthy organic content, apply LAN from time to time to keep the leaves dark green.

Pest control
The potato ladybird is a problem is some areas on the Highveld. It normally breaks dormancy after the first summer rain, and can rapidly cause substantial damage to Swiss chard.

If only a few are present, pick them off by hand or spray with a broad-spectrum insecticide, observing the withholding period. Aphids may attack the plants occasionally; spray Pirimicarb to get rid of them.

Because Swiss chard contains oxalic acid, which has a sour taste, it is best boiled and the water discarded.

Finally, remember that nutritional levels drop after harvesting, which is another reason for growing this vegetable at home.

My good buddy, Steve, invited me over to his place this past Friday. He wanted to give me some gigantic chard plants that he grew in his garden this past summer. Since the cold weather is moving in, either the plants die or head inside. He figured that we could dig the plants up and put them in pots. Then, I could take them home and place them in a nice sunny room inside our house. He told me that he’s been able to extend the growing season of chard for the past few years by moving the plants indoors. I was happy to jump at the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of the areas wisest and most enduring home farmers.

Check out what he gave me:

I know the picture is horrible, but I want to impress upon you that the plants Steve let me have are enormous, especially and seemingly after placing them inside one of our upstairs bedrooms. I think I took 4 or 5 plants. Just for good measure, he threw some celery in there as well. And as you can well imagine, I’ve been eating chard heartily for the past few days.

So, can you even grow swiss chard indoors over winter? Well, like I said above, Steve’s been doing it. From what the plants look like up in the bedroom after I re-potted them, I’m hopeful. They perked right up and are growing strong. And this website recommends people give it a shot because, as they say, “It is extremely easy to grow. A prolific grower, Swiss Chard tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.”

I’ve also read some comments on other gardening forums where people have claimed they’ve grown chard over the winter. I’m excited to see what happens because the last time I was in the grocery store (this morning), a few stalks of chard was going for $2.99. That’s a hefty price to pay for something that’s fairly simple to grow. Gee, at those prices, I must have eaten at least $12 worth of chard in the past two days!

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