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What exactly is Chard?

By Melanie Mathieson
Gardening Guru

Chard is a relative of the beet that has been chosen for leaf production at the expense of storage root formation therefore a bulb does not form at the root. It is a plant that is native to the Mediterranean region but grows well as an annual vegetable in our area. Chard will produce fresh white, yellow or red leaf stalks that are totally edible and tasty. Chard is also an attractive ornamental that adds colour and interest to the vegetable garden. It is a nutritional powerhouse that should be considered in a healthy diet. Chard packs a huge amount of vitamin A, high in other minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium and it is naturally high in sodium. One cup contains 313 milligrams of sodium, which is very high for vegetables.
Chard goes by many names-Swiss chard, leaf beet, seakettle beet, and spinach beet to name a few. It is a beautiful large-leaf vegetable with wide flat stems resembling celery. The red midrib varieties have vivid red stems and broad dark green leaves. If you like spinach, you will adore chard. The flavour is mild yet earthy and sweet with slightly bitter undertones.
Young tender chard leaves can be eaten raw adding a beet-like flavour to salads and sandwiches. Chard can be used in place of spinach in any recipe, although chard will need to be cooked a bit longer than spinach. When cooking more mature chard, the stems require longer cooking time than the leaves. Chard can be harvested while the leaves are young and tender or after maturity when larger have slightly tougher stems. Cut off the outer leaves 1 1/2 inches above the ground when they are young and tender (about 8-12 inches long). Be careful not to damage the terminal bud, at the center of the bottom of the growing rosette of foliage.
Chard should be directly seeded into the garden in early spring to mid-spring. Plant seeds 1/2 to 3/4 inches deep (8 to 10 seeds per foot of row). Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. An alternative method is to thin the seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart; then, when they are large enough for greens (6 to 8 inches tall), harvest the excess plants whole, leaving a final spacing of 9 to 12 inches between plants. When I plant chard I use a raised bed method and scatter seeds across the entire bed. To thin I harvest the small leaves by cutting at their bases with scissors. I do this early in the growing season making sure I leave some to mature into the fall. Make sure you maintain sufficient and constant soil moisture to keep plants growing well especially in hot and dry weather. Insufficient water will cause the plants to become bitter and tough. I like to keep some plants to mature into the early fall. The cooler weather causes the stems to sweeten up. Just make sure to harvest the leaves before the first heavy frost as it will kill of the leaves. If you just want to cook the stems then it doesn’t matter if the leaves have been killed by frost.
I encourage you to give chard a try. It is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked and be a substitute for other greens in recipes. Below are some recommended varieties to try. You should be able to find the seeds in any of our local suppliers.
Red Midrib - Varieties of red chard are more susceptible to going to seed in hot dry weather.
Charlotte - Narrow, savoyed, deep ruby-red leaves. Rhubarb type. Also known as ‘Charolette’. 54 days to maturity.
Rhubarb - Heirloom variety. Dark-green, crinkled leaves on deep-crimson stalks. Harvest baby greens in 32 days. Very hardy but young plants may bolt if frosted in spring. Also known as ‘Ruby Red’ and ‘Red Rhubarb’. 60 days to maturity.
Scarlet Charlotte - Wide, crunchy, magenta stalks with deep-green, savoyed leaves. Very ornamental. 50 days to maturity.
White Midrib
Large White Ribbed - Very uniform, dark-green leaves with white veins and broad, smooth, white stalks. 58 days to maturity.
Fordhook Giant - Compact plants with thick, dark-green, savoyed leaves with white veins and broad, white stems. Harvest baby greens in 25 days. 50-58 days to maturity.
Silverado - 14- to 16-inch plants with dark-green, deeply savoyed leaves with white veins on broad, smooth, white stems. Slow to bolt. 55-65 days to maturity.
Large White Broad-Ribbed - Very uniform, dark-green leaves with white veins and broad, smooth, white stalks. 50 -60 days to maturity.
Lucullus - Heirloom. Light-green, deeply savoyed leaves on thick, white round stalks. Harvest baby greens at 25 days. 50-52 days to maturity.
Perpetual - Exceptionally tender, smooth leaves on thin green stalks. Lasts through summer and withstands moderate frost. Will not bolt. Also known as ‘Perpetual’ and ‘Leaf Beet’. 50 -60 days to maturity.
White King - Extra dark-green, heavily savoyed leaves with large, thick, white ribs. 55 days to maturity.
Red, White or Yellow Midrib (mixed)
Bright Lights - 20-inch plants with dark-green, bronzed, moderately savoyed leaves with stems, midribs and secondary veins showing gold, yellow, orange, and pink intermediate pastels and stripes. Harvest baby leaves in 28 days. 50 -60 days to maturity. I have tried this variety and was very pleased with the results.
Rainbow - this is very fun to grow for the kids as it develops various shades of ribs throughout the patch. Colours range from almost purple and dark red to pale pinks and white. 60 days to maturity.
Bright Yellow - Deep-green leaves with bright-yellow stems. Harvest baby leaves in 30 days, mature in 57 days.