Swiss chard adds an elegant aesthetic to any backyard garden. It tolerates both cool and hot weather, making it perfect for most growing regions. Unlike other leafy greens, that may bolt when the weather gets to warm, chard will produce much deeper into the summer and again until the hard frosts of late fall. You can’t beat homegrown chard because it does not transport well, giving most grocery store chard a less than desirable flavor. Here are some tips on how to grow Swiss chard at home.
Chard comes in a number of varieties, each with its own unique characteristics. Consult local growers to find out if there is a variety that thrives in your area. In general, white stem varieties, such as “Fordhook Giant,” are known to do better than colored stem chard. They tend to resist bolting much better. However, try “Ruby” for its beautiful, bright red stems, “Orange Fantasia” for its large leaves and orange stems or “Bright lights” for multicolored stems. “Lucullus” is a great heat tolerant variety.
WHEN TO GROW
Unlike many other leafy vegetables, Swiss chard grows well in both hot and cool temperatures. For best results, sow seeds or set transplants 2-4 weeks before the last frost of the winter. If you want a continuous harvest, continue sowing seeds every 7-10 days for about a month. For a fall harvest, plant 40 days before the first expected frost of the winter.
WHERE TO GROW
Chard does best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Chard can also be grown in containers, 5 gallons or larger.
Swiss chard needs a rich, loamy soil to grow its very best. The soil should be fortified with lots of organic matter, like mature compost or organic fertilizer before planting. Be sure your pH is 6.0-6.8.
Direct sow seeds ½ inch deep and about 3 inches apart 2-4 weeks prior to the last frost of the winter. Or in late summer, about 10 weeks before the first frost of fall. Thin seedlings to about 6 inches apart once they reach 3-4 inches tall. You’ll need to thin them again, to 12 inches apart once they grow a little bigger. Alternatively, you can set transplants out about the same time, 12 inches apart.
WATERING & CARE
Keep the soil consistently moist without ever making it soggy. Regular, even watering is the best for chard. They usually need about 1-1.5 inches of water per week. Avoid overhead watering to limit the chance of mildew.
Mulch to help maintain moisture in the soil and fight root competition from weeds.
Cut plants back after they reach 12″ tall. Chard begins to lose its flavor when it gets too big.
Chard does not need much fertilizing to produce. However, a monthly feeding of compost tea or diluted fish emulsion will make your crop that much better.
Chard can be harvested once it reaches 6-8 inches tall or when the leaves are large enough to eat. Use a knife to cut off the outer leaves about an inch above soil level. Harvest carefully to allow more leaves to grow for a more plentiful harvest.
Leaves are best (sweetest) when harvested in the cool of early spring or late fall.
TIPS & ADVICE
Keep an eye out for aphids, mites and caterpillars, which can wreck havoc on your chard leaves.
Use crushed age shell or beer traps to deter slugs when growing in moist weather.
Floating row covers may be necessary if pest problems persist.
The ribs (stems) of Swiss chard can be harvested and prepared much like asparagus.
Keep chard in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.