Like spinach, it’s easy to grow in the cooler days of spring and fall. But it’s a sturdier plant, and has a more delicate flavor than other greens like kale and turnip greens. And it can be substituted for spinach and other greens in many recipes.
The term “Swiss” was used to distinguish chard from French spinach varieties in early seed catalogs, and the name stuck. The first varieties have been traced back to Sicily.
Chard varieties are available with green, red and yellow stalks and veins within its dark green leaves. Regardless of color, don’t discard the colorful stalks as they add color, texture and flavor to the dishes they’re cooked into.
Considered one of the most healthful vegetables, chard is a nutritional powerhouse: It’s a tasty source of calcium, potassium, Vitamins C, K and A, and rich in fiber, minerals and protein.
There is growing evidence that it can also protect against vision problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration. So, eat your colors.
Chard is slowly becoming more available in local markets, but your best bet is to grow your own. It will be fresher, and you can choose from several seed varieties.
It’s best to plant seeds directly in well prepared soil in the spring when soil is at least 50 degrees, and later as well, up to two months prior to the first expected frost.
Plant seeds in a sunny location with good drainage. Work a little bit of 10-10-10 into the soil, around 1 pound per 100 square foot, prior to seeding. Follow depth and distance directions on your seed packet.
Chard seeds are actually dried up pods containing multiple seeds, so don’t plant them too close together. When they’re large enough to handle (an inch or so tall) thin them to 6 to 8 inches apart to optimize growth. Be sure they have an inch of water per week. Then watch out for leaf miners which might bore into the leaves, leaving dead brown portions; pull and discard those leaves.
Plants will emerge from seeds in five to 10 days and mature in around 50 days.
Chard can be harvested while the leaves are young and tender, or after maturity when they are larger (10 to 12 inches) and have slightly tougher stems. Harvesting is a continuous process even through early fall frosts; the more you pick the more plants will produce. Just cut leaves, around 1 inch above the ground, to keep the plant going. Once cut from the plant raw chard is extremely perishable, so don’t harvest until you plan to use it.
Try substituting chard in your favorite spinach recipes, and here’s my favorite from “The Joy of Cooking”: Sautéed Chard with Garlic. Remove the stems from 1 to 1½ pounds of chard. Cut the stems into ½-inch pieces and coarsely chop the leaves; rinse well but do not dry.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and some red pepper flakes; cook over moderate heat until the garlic begins to brown and smells good.
Add the chard stems first with salt and pepper to taste and cook until almost tender (2 to 3 minutes). Then add the leaves and cook, covered, until the leaves and stems are tender (3 to 5 minutes). Season with lemon juice or red wine vinegar and serve with butter and, if you like, a sprinkle of soy sauce.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.