In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2003
Regional Report

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My bed of 'Bright Lights' will produce crisp leaves from now until early winter. Meanwhile, I'm planting more chard among my flowers.

Cheers for Chard

The charm of Swiss chard is that it's always there. Summer heat can't take it down, and chilly autumn nights simply make it more crinkled and crisp. If you don't have it in your garden right now, what are you waiting for? When it comes to making the transition from hot to cool weather, chard is a true champion.

Rainbow Stalks
My favorite variety, 'Bright Lights', includes a mixture of plants with stalks in shades of red, white, pink, yellow and orange. This is an old idea! Four hundred years ago, John Gerard wrote of the red Roman beet, which "brought forth plants in many and variable colors" in his garden near London. Since its introduction in 1998, 'Bright Lights' has become popular in both vegetable gardens and flowerbeds, where its upright posture, rich green leaves, and colorful stalks qualify it as a top ornamental edible.

Seeding and Thinning
Like closely related beets, chard seeds are modules that contain two or three seeds. If all of the seeds germinate, thin the little bunches by nipping out the unwanted plants with cuticle scissors. A few weeks later, I further thin my plants to stand three or more inches apart. When thinning, I leave any plants that blush yellow or orange, because these plants need more time to establish themselves than those that have red or white ribs.

Happy Harvests
Chard is happiest when it is harvested regularly. Every two weeks or so, pick off the outer leaves even if you don't plan to eat them. The plants will eagerly produce more tender young leaves, which emerge from the plants' centers. A true biennial, chard will produce flowers and seeds if it makes it through winter. A plastic tunnel will insure the survival of the plants. But even without protection, healthy chard that's damaged by cold weather will make a strong comeback in spring, producing a fast flush of tender new leaves.


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