Kathryn Fontenot, Koske, Thomas J. | 7/16/2005 1:16:07 AM
Swiss chard, often just called "chard," can be grown easily in most gardens. It is a very good dietary source of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamins A and C and riboflavin. This cool-season green vegetable also can have good heat resistance, so it’s really a year-round producer of beet greens.
Some chard is fairly resistant to bolting in summer heat. Seeds or transplants can be planted in the late winter through fall. Chard will produce fresh greens, even through the summer. It is an excellent choice for small gardens. The large, fleshy, petiole leaf stalks can be white, yellow or red with broad, crisp, green leaf blades. The leaf blades can be cooked like spinach or other mild greens, and the mid ribs or petiole leaf stalks can be used like celery or asparagus. Swiss chard is similar to beet greens. It is an attractive plant and can be grown in ornamental flower beds or as a border plant.
Soil preparation and fertilization of Swiss chard are easy. Chard likes a rich loam of pH 6 to 7 or a little higher and will not tolerate very acid soils. Add a 4-inch layer of organic matter, and mix it into the soil 6 inches deep. Be sure to break up all the large soil clumps. Work the soil when it is moist: not too wet and not too dry.
Put down a handful or one cup of 8-8-8 fertilizer or equivalent per 10 feet of row. Put it where the rows will be and rake up the row on top of it. Make 3- foot-wide raised beds so that the rows will drain well. Sidedress the plants when they are about 6 to 8 inches tall using 3 to 4 tablespoons of ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate for each 10 feet of plant row. Choose ammonium sulfate only if soil pH is over 7.3. Water fertilizer in well. Sidedress nitrogen every 5 to 6 weeks. This feeding will keep the plants growing well over a long time.
Plant seeds a little thick. Chard and beet seeds are often found as "seed balls" that contain several seeds. Be careful when thinning so you don’t pull out all the seedlings from the one spot; cutting is best. Cook the tender greens you remove. Seeds do best if they are planted about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep with about six to eight seeds per foot. Plant at the deeper depth in late spring through late summer.
After the thinning, the young plants should be about 12 inches apart. If you are setting out transplants, place them about a foot apart. When planting multiple rows on a bed, space rows 15-18 inches apart and stagger the sets.
Cultivate often and shallowly. Better yet, control weeds by using mulches, but be on the lookout for slugs; mulches encourage slugs. Mulch with leaves, thick layers of newspapers, compost or other organic mulches. If a few weeds come through the mulch, you can easily pull them.
Pests are usually not a big problem. Nematodes, leaf miners, beetles and caterpillars may be a concern, however. Follow pest controls recommended for greens crops.
Chard is a two-month crop, but the best way to harvest Swiss chard is to "crop it." Cropping is cutting off only the outer leaves about an inch above the ground while they are still tender. In harvesting, it is best to cut chard; pulling the leaves can damage the entire plant. The entire plant is usually harvested only during the thinning stage when plants are about 8 inches tall.
If you are thinking of planting Swiss chard this year, consider these 2009 varieties: Bright Lights (AAS, multi mix), Rhubarb or Ruby Red, Fordhook Giant (vigorous), Silverado (compact, slow bolt), heat-tolerant Lucullus, Large White, Barese (thick stalk, pac choi), Bionda (mild, thin stalk, pale leaf), Magenta Sunset (thin, dark pink stalk), Golden Sunrise (orange-gold stalk), Bright Yellow, Discovery (red stalk hybrid).