My friend and reader, Jack, and I had a brief conversation via email about chard. I thought you might be interested in our exchange.
Jack writes, “Going to try chard of some type this year also for the first time. Will probably just grab whatever variety is in the Burpee seed rack at the Home Depot. But just in case they have more than 1 variety, do you have a standout variety that you prefer?”
Here are my thoughts about chard — just a bit more detailed than what I replied to Jack and with pictures which say a lot more than additional words.
I’ve only grown chard for about 4 years. Hopefully I’ll never be without it again.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, id markers seem to disappear in my garden and I loose track of which variety is which. I grow both smooth leaf and crinkled leaf. The leaves of the crinkled varieties seem to get a lot larger. I especially like that when I need a bountiful harvest to sauté.
How I Plant
Chard is not something I fill the entire bed with, but rather start several varieties and put them in here and there throughout the garden. (But you can certainly fill up a bed if you want. 🙂 )
It seems every garden bed has its own set of circumstances and sometimes the same type of plant will thrive in one and not in another. And yes, sometimes they thrive in all of them — but I like spreading them around just in case.
Back up for Other Greens
Chard is my backup for all my other greens. When mache is seeding, or lettuce low, or spinach bolting my focus is on the chard. The young leaves (and even the older ones) are delicious and tender enough to use for salads or sandwiches or however you’d use the other greens.
When leaves get large (and some varieties can get huge) I think they’re particularly delicious sautéd in olive oil and garlic. Sometimes I’ll toss some spelt or whole spaghetti with oil and vinegar, and a bit of organic grated parmesan and then top off with the sautéd chard.
Chard produces a LONG time. And if you don’t harvest on a regular basis it’ll wait for you.
In the summer when harlequin bugs turn up to deface my brassicas, the Chard can get pretty shabby. I’ve seen it look “not worth having” and make a comeback to beauty in cooler temperatures in late summer and fall. And even when it’s at its worst, it still produces beautiful new leaves that you can use.
More Than One
I hope Jack (and maybe you) will decide to grow more than one variety. Each has something just a bit different to offer regarding performance.
Having eatable leaves produced from spring through fall is not a bad deal. On a scale of 1 to 10 for plants that I want in my garden, I’ll give it a 10.
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I absolutely LOVE Swiss chard! It’s so easy to grow and you can cut it, enjoy it, and it keeps coming back until the first hard frost. My favorite variety is “Bright Lights” both for color and taste. I find the secret to really enjoying chard is to use a good quality olive oil when sauteeing it (be careful because if water is on the leaves after washing it “spits”). It’s a favorite vegetable for me in the spring.
I live in East TN. Been growing chard 4 yrs. Usually use bright lights, but noticed that the peppermint variety always did better overall – more robust plants, bigger leaves, etc. so have gone to ordering seeds and raising my own transplants.
I have a cute story to tell you about Swiss Chard.
Liz and I were in Zermatt Switzerland in a restaurant. I couldn’t read the menu, so the waitress was kind enough to interpret for me. I had a vegetable that was rolled up and I didn’t know what it was, but it was delicious so I asked her. She didn’t know the English word for it. So I unwrapped it and said to Liz “I know what this is, It’s Swiss Chard”. I grew some in the garden that summer. I cooked it like spinach, tore the pieces into smaller pieces, put them in a large pot with just a touch of water and cooked until shrunk and tender. Boy was that good. I’ve since found out that it is quite high in calcium oscillate. (Not he best for some kidney stones) It is probably fine eaten in smaller amounts and very healthy for you otherwise.
I am so pleased that you are keeping (tending my garden) going as you are so helpful to so many and passing on your immense wisdom.
Thanks for your post. I have not grown chard in the past. I’ll add it to my list of plants to try growing!! Thanks for ALL your inspiration!
Great recommendation “Hope you will grow more than one variety”. I absolutely LOVE chard. What I grew last year was so tender and delicious that I used it just like lettuce. It outperformed any of my beautiful lettuces and even my delicious spinach. It just keeps on producing even when neglected.
Thanks for the additional info Theresa. Took me a while to get on board but I swung by the HD on the way home from work this evening & grabbed a pack each of Fordham & Neon Lights. I’ll try a few more as well to pick a few favorites from (and help offset the costs of feeding the chickens).
My two cents on Chard: I’m not crazy about it. It’s basically beet greens without the beets (same family). I love beets , but not the greens. I do love Kale. Chard reseeds for me like crazy (darn). When Chard stems get big, chop them up separately from the greens and cook first because they take longer than the leaves.
The only chard seed I’ve found here is “Bright Lights”. I bought a pack & will be placing a few more seed orders. I’ll check each time to see if the company has any different varieties that I can try.
I love the pictures! So clear & detailed. Really helps to see the plants up-close.
Thanks for taking the time to add your beautiful pictures to your posts. What a BLESSING you are to me!
I have grown several varieties of chard and while all have been good I find ‘fordhook giant’ to be the most productive. In fact in my zone 7 NC garden this variety takes summer heat and winter cold equally well. I plant it in late winter and I harvest it through summer, fall and usually through the entire winter. There is no other green that comes to mind that can take both extreme heat and cold. And the more you pick the more it produces.
Wonderful input Derek. Thanks for sharing.