How to Grow Chard

Chard SwissChard, often called Swiss chard, is a cool-season biennial grown as an annual. Sow chard in the garden 2 to 4 weeks after all frost has passed in spring. To get an early start, sow chard indoors as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting out when plants are 3 to 4 inches tall. Once established chard will tolerate heat and frost. Plant chard also in summer for a fall harvest.

Description. Chard is a member of the beet family grown for its rosette of large, crinkly green leaves on thick red or white stalks. Plants can grow to 16 inches tall and leaves and stalks can be harvested several times over the course of a season on a cut-and-come-again schedule.

Yield. Plant 2 to 3 chard plants per household member.

Site. Grow chard in full sun; chard will tolerate partial shade. Chard grows best in well-worked, well-drained soil rich in organic matter, although chard does not favor soil that is too acidic. Chard grows best in a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

Planting time. Chard grows best in cool temperatures; high temperatures will slow down leaf production. Sow chard in the garden 2 to 4 weeks after all frost has passed in spring. To get an early start, sow chard indoors as early as 3 to 4 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting out when plants are 3 to 4 inches tall. Plant chard also in summer for a fall harvest. Once established chard will tolerate heat and frost. In mild-winter climates, chard can be grown through the winter.

Planting and spacing. Sow chard seed ½ inch deep from 1 to 2 inches apart. Thin successful seedlings from 8 to 12 inches apart. Space rows 18 to 24 inches apart. Chard grows from seed cluster (several seeds to a cluster, similar to beets). Clusters are likely to produce several seedlings so thin to the strongest seedling once plants are 3 inches tall. Cut the weaker seedlings off at soil level with a small scissors. Chard can grow crowded, but leaves will be smaller. Crowded plants may tend to bolt and go to seed more quickly.

Water and feeding. Keep chard evenly moist for quick, tender growth. Prepare planting beds with well-aged compost in advance of sowing. Side dress chard with aged compost at midseason.

Companion plants. Chicory, garlic, leeks, mustard, onions. Avoid growing chard with legumes, potatoes, or tomatoes.

Container growing. Chard will grow in an 8-inch pot. Plant 2 or 3 plants in a container. In larger containers, set chard in wide rows on 8-inch centers. Pick older, outside leaves first and allow young, tender leaves to grow on.

Pests. Aphids and leaf miners will attack chard. Control aphids by pinching out the affected leaves or hose them away with a blast of water. Leaf miners feed on the inside of leaf surfaces. Remove leaves with significant leaf miner damage and look underneath leaves for row of pearl-white eggs; destroy them.

Diseases. Chard has no serious disease problems.

Harvest. Chard will be ready for harvest in 55 to 60 days from sowing. Pick outside leaves as early as three inches long but before leaves grow to10 inches long. Older leaves will have an earthy flavor. Harvest chard on a cut-and-come-again schedule; remove a few outside leaves at time. If you harvest the whole plant, cut it back to about 3 inches above the soil and it will grow back. Chare that over winters can be harvested again the second year.

Varieties. Dark green, crumpled leaves: Argentata (55 days); Fordhook Giant (60 days); White King (55 days). Red chard: Rainbow (60 days); Ruby Red (55 days); Vulcan (60 days). Dark green smooth leaves: French Swiss Chard (60 days); Green (60 days); Perpetual (50 days). Light green chard: Giant Lucullus (50 days); Lucullus (50 days).

Storing and preserving. Chard will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Remove the stem and chard will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Common name. Chard, Swiss chard, sea kale, Swiss beet, sea kale beet.

Botanical name. Beta vulgaris cicla

Origin. Europe, Mediterranean

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE