Available in a bouquet of beautiful, bright colors and featuring a mild, earthy flavor, Swiss chard is a delicious and interesting alternative to leafy vegetables like spinach and lettuce. Ellen Ogden, cookbook writer and cofounder of The Cook's Garden seed catalog, praises Swiss chard as the quintessential kitchen-garden plant because of its long growing season and ease of use in a variety of recipes. Since you spend so much time working hard in your garden, why not try a plant that works hard for you?
Sowing. To prepare your soil for chard, blend 2 to 4 inches of compost into the top 6 inches. Direct-seed at a depth of 1⁄2 to 1 inch in spring, or in summer for a fall crop. You'll notice germination in about one to two weeks. If you prefer, you can grow transplants and transfer them into your garden after seedlings develop four to six mature leaves. When planting, space seeds or seedlings 6 to 8 inches apart.
Growing. Give Swiss chard plants 1 or 2 inches of water each week and spread mulch around them to conserve soil moisture and keep weeds at bay. In the early growth stages, protect seedlings and transplants with a row cover.
Harvesting. Start snipping and eating Swiss chard anytime after leaves form. To harvest mature chard this fall, cut full-size leaves from the outside of the plant.
Chard varieties come with a range of gorgeous rib and vein colors, so try planting a couple of different ones. We recommend glossy, green-leaved 'Fordhook Giant' for its crispness, high productivity, and snow-white ribs. 'Rhubarb' has rich, bright red stems and veins and a high vitamin content. 'Bright Lights' was named an All-America Selections winner in 1998 for its stunning array of gold, orange, yellow, pink, and even purple stems.