Chard

Chard is served all over the world, and with good reason.  Chard is like having two vegetables wrapped up in one plant.  The leaves are very much like spinach and the stalks are like asparagus.  In just one cup of cooked chard you have only 35 little calories and 3.7  grams of fiber to fill you up, just to start. There is 3.29 grams of protein      to keep you strong and amazingly enough almost 110% of your daily Value of Vitamin A and 716 % of DV of Vitamin K. Over 50% of Vitamin C and 17% of Vitamin E.  Chard is also a good source of B6, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Potassium, and Copper and low in fat.  Now that you know chard is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals maybe you will be compelled to try it.

Origin

Chard is a vegetable that has been around as long as Aristotle. Chard originated in the Mediterranean, and was quite common in Europe. The beet was first used before chard. .  In 1806 chard made its way to North America.

Botany

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris l.var. cicla mog) is a hardy biennial.  It is very similar to the beet except it does not form and enlarged hypocotyl. It is also a member of the goosefoot or pigweed family (Chenopodiaceae).

It has been called by many different names such as Swiss Chard, Chard, , leaf beet, seakale beet, silver beet, spinach  beet and perpetual spinach.

Determining Varieties

Perpetual Spinach – This variety has thinner stems and taste more like spinach.  They are more compact plants and work well for smaller gardens and container gardens. These also do very well in intense heat.

White Stemmed Varieties – Such as Fordhook Giant continually outperform their showy counterparts in productivity and bolt resistance.

Brightly Colored Varieties – Like Fantasia Orange and Ruby Red are great for edible landscaping and container gardening as they are smaller more compact plants with lots of punch.  Plant these with carrots and herbs for a delicate background. The colored varieties have a slightly more bitter taste but the leaves are also thinner than Fordhook Giant.

Planting

Choose a location in your garden that has part to full sun.

Here in San Marcos and Austin we can plan chard From February 15 – May 15 and then again from June 15 – September 30.

Soak the seeds in a few hours before you plant them.

Dig your beds and incorporate compost and a balanced organic fertilizer.

Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep and 12 inches apart.  Chard capsules contain more than one seed most of the time so you will have to thin them.  You can do this by using a pair of scissors. Or I have had great success at transplanting the little guys and moving them elsewhere.  If you are using chard for salad greens instead of the large leaves there is no need for thinning.

Once the chard is up and booming you want to get your mulch on the soil.  This will protect your plants from soil splashing on the leaves and spreading disease.  It will also help keep the soil cool and conserve water.

Make sure that you continue to feed your chard throughout the season as it is a heavy producer.

Pest and Diseases

Leaf Spot – Is a fungal disease either caused by Cercospora beticola or Phoma batae that is very common in this area on chard, beets and spinach. It causes light brown patches surrounded by purple halos that form on the leaves.  High humidity and frequent rainfall are good breeding grounds for leaf spot.  Make sure that there is plenty of air circulation.  Quickly remove any affected leaves.

Viral Diseases – New growth may be small or distorted and leaves may have an unusual crinkling appearance.  Plants usually outgrow infection within two weeks.  Spray with liquid seaweed.  If they do not improve within two weeks then remove.

Pocket Rot – is caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia solani and created pockets of infected plants.  It is spread from plant to plant.

Damping Off – is caused by a number of individual fungi.

Downy Mildew is caused by the fungi Pernospora sparsa.

Slugs – Slugs chew holes in the leaves at night and rest in the day.  Use beer bait traps or put crushed eggshells around plants.

Caterpillars – Various caterpillars will chew holes in leaves such as the cabbage looper.  Cut worms will saw the leaves off at the base.  BT will get rid of all of your caterpillar woes.  IF you have cutworm issues use toilet paper rolls cut in half at the time of planting.  Just plant you seed right in the center of the hole.

Cabbage Maggot – Use beneficial nematodes.

Harvesting

Take a sharp knife and cut the stalk of chard  at the base of the plant.  The leaves should still have a glossy sheen to them.  You should only pick three to five leaves at a time as not to put too much stress on the plant at once.  Picking the leaves encourages new growth.  So if you are not hungry for chard this week and you plants are booming, feed your neighbors or your compost.  Or freeze it for later use, it only takes 3 minutes in a boiling water bath. You can always dehydrate it and use it in soups or stews as well. You can pickle the stems as well.   Chard will store in your fridge for about 4 days.

Seed Saving

This year is a very fortunate one for us as we have been lucky enough to save seeds from our chard and beets.  Chard will shoot up large stalks and flowers the spring of its second year. Chard is wind pollinated.  To keep your chard varieties true to form you need to keep them separated 1/4 mile from each other and beets.  Tree lines , woods and buildings between varieties may allow for shorter isolation. Place six plants closely together for good seed set.  You will see flowers  followed by seed clustered right next to the stem. Once the stem has dried to a brown color, cut it down and thrash it inside a paper bag. Gather the largest seed that falls to the bottom.  Use a 1/2 and 1/4 inch screen for cleaning. The seed keeps for  4-6 years if kept in cool and dry storage conditions.

Cooking

When chard is small it is used raw in salads. It is also a great wrap for your burritos, pitas and sandwiches.  You can saute chard with a little olive oil and garlic or onion, salt and pepper and put the lid on the steam it with a touch of water. It is also steamed and boiled and some lemon or vinegar added. For recipes follow this link and this oneand one more .  Happy growing, cooking and seed saving!

 

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