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Growing Swiss Chard - advice on how to grow Swiss Chard

Chard is a green leafed vegetable that makes a good alternative to spinach. Growing Chard can be easier than growing spinach as it is better able to withstand higher temperatures and water shortages. 

As well as its value as a food crop Swiss Chard also has a very striking value as an ornamental plant and so often appears in a gardens ornamental borders or ornamental pots. Chard is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It's stalks can be of various colours.

Chard is known by a number of different names in including Swiss Chard, Spinach Beet,and Leaf beet.

Preparation

Dig over the soil and dig in some organic matter a number of weeks before sowing. This will help soil moisture retention and soil aeration. Make sure to break up any large clods of soil with your fork and rake the soil to obtain a fine soil structure in which to plant your Chard seeds.

Sowing

Sow Chard in early spring to avoid the final hard frosts. Chard is normally sown directly into the soil, not in seed trays for later tranplanting. 

Sow the Chard seed in rows around 45cm apart and about 5 cm apart. The seeds should be sown at around 1 - 1.5cm depth. Germination can take anywhere around 1-2 weeks.

The plants will need thinning to about 15-25cm between plants. If left until around 15cm in height before thinning then the thinned plants can be treated like an early harvest and the young leaves will be extremely tender and tasty.

Position

When growing Chard you should position the plants in a spot that receives a good amount of sunlight. Chard will tolerate partial shade but will give a better yield when in a sunny spot.

Chard is a cool weather vegetable and may withstand a very mild frost.

Soil type

Chard doesn't like a soil that is too acidic, an acidic soil will stunt growth. Chard grows well in a soil of around 6.5 - 6.8.

The soil should be able well drained but be able to hold moisture well so a soil with a good amount of organic matter is ideal.

Tending

To extend harvesting past the first hard frost you can put the plants under a cloche or polytunnel to extend the growing season.

Chard is sturdier than spinach and can cope better with water shortages, however you should still water regularly to ensure optimum growth and prevent bolting. Bolting leads to premature flower and seed production and will divert the plants energies away from leaf growth.

If a flower stalk develops then clip it off to extend the harvest.

Harvesting

Chard is a pick and come again crop. For multiple harvests from the same plant simply pick the outer leaves and leave the inner younger leaves. You can pick leaves after they have reached around 15cm in length. Chard can be harvested until the first hard frost this way.

Chard does not store well so should either be eaten within a few hours of picking or stored in the salad box of the fridge for a maximum of 3 days.

Be sure not to damage the central terminal bud at the centre of the young growth.

You can also if you wish harvest the whole plant.

After picking the leaves simply wash and add to salads or wash and then quickly heat in a pan using only the water that clings to the leaves after washing. This will avoid overcooked soggy chard leaves.

Varieties

Chard varieties are available with a variety of stalk colours - red, yellow and white and packets with seeds that provide mixed colours are often known as Rainbow Chard.