Until about ten years ago, if you’d ask me what Swiss chard was, I think I’d have replied, “Aren’t those the guys in the brightly colored uniforms guarding the Vatican?”
Not quite! Chard is actually one of those good-for-you leafy greens; however, I was right about the bright color.
When I visited Guilford College farm in February, Korey and the students had some beautiful chard in the high tunnel as well as some seedlings in the warmer greenhouse they use for starting plants.
By starting the seeds in the warm greenhouse and then transplanting to the high tunnels when they are closer to or at harvesting maturity, the farm is maximizing their space since seedlings need much less room than the mature plants. They can harvest the chard continuously for months, leaving about 40% or more of the plant each time they remove the outermost leaves; eventually this chard in the high tunnel will go into the field to make way from more temperamental plants like tomatoes.
We know it isn’t a guy in the Vatican City, but where does it come from and how does it grow?
Firstly, Swiss chard isn’t actually Swiss, but a domesticated version of a wild species of greens that originates from the Eastern Mediterranean. For the curious, it was reportedly named “Swiss” by a botanist in honor of his homeland.
Just like chard’s relatives, beets and spinach, chard is chock full of vitamins. How about over 600% of your RDA of vitamin K and over 300% of vitamin A in a cooked cup of chard instead of your regular vitamin tablet?
How it Grows
Chard is a frost tolerant biennial typically grown as an annual. This means it can grow for two years (biennial), but we usually grow it and harvest it in just one (annual).
The plants like full sun when the weather is still a bit cooler and part shade once the weather warms. They can be planted outside early in the spring, but become bitter if exposed to freezing temperatures for too long (much like myself).
A fairly beginner friendly plant, the time from seed to harvest is fairly quick, only 50-60 days.
Like many leafy greens the flavor is a bit dependent on the variety and the time of harvest. Young leaves will be tender and mild—great for salads. Mature leaves will be more bitter, like mature spinach, and is excellent boiled or braised like spinach or kale.
Here’s a guest post with a recipe from my fellow fresh food enthusiasts, the Sarah and Jim McNulty. In the meantime, here are some great recipes from the folks at Congolina Farm in Brown Summit: http://congolina.com/recipes-recepes/