In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Brilliantly colored chard is delicious, nutritious, and keeps growing as the weather cools!
Chard: Edible Ornamental
At one of the first community gardens I visited years ago, a gardener proudly showed off his attractive border planting of 3-foot-tall chard plants in red and white that he kept growing because of the beautifully ruffled and brilliantly colored foliage. When I asked his favorite recipe, he stared blankly at me and replied, "You can eat this?" Then it was my turn to stare blankly back at him, "Yes, of course; like spinach or kale, it's wonderful raw in salads, steamed or stir-fried, cooked and chilled with a vinaigrette dressing, or tossed into soups; even the stems alone can be steamed like celery and asparagus; and it's very nutritious!"
Since then, the color range has expanded into rainbow hues, and with colors that persist through cooking. (Remember those early varieties that turned an unappetizing gray when cooked?)
Related to the beet, chard or Beta vulgaris produces large, finely textured, crisp, glossy, semi-savoyed leaves on fleshy leafstalks. Native to the Mediterranean region and the Canary Islands, it was noted by Aristotle around 350 B.C. and found later in China and in Europe. Today, it is a prolific cool-season vegetable that continues through our warm summers, and it's more heat-tolerant than spinach.
Chard grows best in full sun but tolerates partial shade and is a light feeder. It thrives in well-drained, friable soil such as sandy or clay loam, with ample humus. A very deeply-rooted plant -- up to six feet deep -- chard can even be useful in helping to aerate subsoil.
Sow seeds one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep, six to eight per foot, in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. It germinates in seven to 14 days. Chard "seeds" are actually dried fruits enclosing several seeds (beets are similar), so from one to six plants may emerge from each "seed," which is why chard seedling invariably need thinning, no matter how carefully you space them.
For continuous cropping of baby-size heads, sow seeds every four to six weeks from late winter through fall. When seedlings are four to eight inches tall, thin or transplant them to six to 12 inches between plants, depending on whether baby-sized plants or individual mature leaves will be harvested.
Harvest may begin as soon as leaves are well-formed and succulent, usually 55-60 days. Entire plants can be harvested, root and all, for eating. Or cut the plant off about two inches above ground level, and new leaves will form. I prefer to harvest by snapping off single outer leaves, allowing the several inner leaves and center growing point to continue growing, forming another set of harvest-size leaves within a week. A good yield for the full season is about one pound of chard greens per foot of row. In other words, lots and lots of "greens!"
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