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/
As a gardener and greens-eater, chard is uniquely wonderful to me for this reason: It grows and thrives from late spring, through the whole summer, and even into the fall. Most other greens (spinach, collards, kale, arugula, turnip greens, beet greens, etc.) need cooler weather. Swiss chard is the only green I’ve found that thrives and sustains through our long, hot North Carolina summers. Plant some (a lot!) right now and eat it for months and months! Just buy a cheap packet of seeds. Perhaps plant some tomatoes or other tall shade-providing summer veggies next to the chard patch later to keep it cooler. It’s happy and pretty in containers or interspersed in flower beds. The only problem is that the bugs and the bunnies like it as much as I do.
As far as cooking/eating it, basically you can treat it like a spinach but a bit tougher/more substantial. I used to eat the stems, because they are tender and edible, but they’re fairly bitter. I like chard a lot better now that I’ve given up on eating the stems. I just harvest a big mess o’ chard, steam in down with some salt in a big pot, and then have it to add to omelets and other dishes throughout the week.
Sara, thanks for the great comment and tips!
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