Swiss chard plants are part of the beet family, but unlike beets, they used for their greens and stalks rather than the roots. Often producing large, dark green leaves, these vegetables have a thick stalk of red, white, or yellow. Both the leaves and the stalks can be eaten raw, cooked, or stored, giving this vegetable variety and usefulness. In addition, chard plants are visually appealing, adding to the overall decor of your yard or garden while providing nutrients for your table.
As with most green-leaf plants, chard plants are typically high in nutrition. While these vegetables are high in sodium, which is rare among garden produce, they are also packed with a concentrated amount of vitamin A content. They are also equipped with equally beneficial vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Chard is a very forgiving and hardy plant that can grow in almost any soil, but its ideal pH level is between 5.0 and 6.0. Chard plants thrive in well-drained beds that have part or full sun exposure. To prepare the soil for planting your chard, cultivate the area, eliminating rocks, sticks, and other debris. Add compost or organic compound fertilizer to your soil to yield the best possible produce from your plants.
Chard plants are hardy and can withstand late spring frosts. Its seeds can be planted directly into the garden as soon as the soil is workable. To establish a chard bed conducive to thorough draining, build rows that are about three inches tall and sixteen inches apart. Plant seeds approximately half an inch deep, covering with top soil and watering. The soil around the seeds should remain moist, but do not oversaturate.
Plant eight to ten seeds per one-foot row, and as the plants get bigger, thin the seedlings so there are six to eight inches between the plants. Alternatively, plants can be thinned once the greens are edible (when leaves reach about six inches long). Thin plants by removing the entirety of excess plants, allowing for nine to twelve inches between the leaves on the remaining plants.
Pests are a rare problem among the chard family. While flea beetles and aphids can sometimes become a problem, these are easily eliminated by treating for the pest or placing row covers over the plants. Slugs and snails can also be an issue for those gardening in moist climates; crushed eggshells will deter these creatures, and they can also be hand-removed from your plants and garden area.
Swiss chard plants will grow for the entire season, and harvesting is possible from the time the plant leaves are large enough to remove (six inches or longer). Depending on the variety of your chard plant, this could be in as little as just a few weeks post-planting. Harvest only the outer leaves, leaving the younger, more tender leaves to grow. By harvesting in this manner, your plant will continue to produce all season long, giving you multiple harvests per week. Do not cut the stalks, but rather gently break them off about one-and-a-half inches above the ground.
Swiss chard is a versatile vegetable; its leaf as well as stalk can be eaten. Greens can be consumed fresh from the garden; alternatively, you can blanch the vegetables and freeze the leaves or can them for shelf-storage. Both the plant greens and stalks can be used in cooking (the stalks, as with rhubarb, can be used in baking). You can even dry the produce from these plants as an alternative storage method.