Chard All Season Long

Chard holds a special place in my garden for its beauty, generous yields, and undemanding ways.  The tall sprays of deeply crinkled leaves and colorful, broad stalks are eye-catching, especially when grown among zinnias or other annuals.  Chard can make a summer garden look lush, even when the tomatoes are devastated and the beans are disappearing under hordes of Mexican bean beetles.  Unlike many greens, chard will produce steadily through the hottest days of summer and the first autumn frosts.

Chard is a biennial and a member of the beet family.  Although it will overwinter in most gardens, it will set seed during its second year, so it’s best to plant a new crop each year.  Sow chard seeds 1/2 inch deep directly into the ground when spring air turns warm or in the early fall.  In my Southern Utah area it’s around mid March for spring and late August for fall.  Chard started in pots are never as vigorous as those plants started directly in the ground.  Chard prefers soil that have been enriched with compost and a little nitrogen.  When seedlings are about 3 inches tall thin them to 6-12 inches apart.  Rainbow chard can be on the closer side whereas the stalky white chard need more room.  Chard needs regular watering when plants are young to make for a vigorous mature plant.  Once they are about a foot tall they are far more tolerant of dry conditions and seem to produce well whether pampered or neglected.  When summer hits a good mulching will undoubtedly help with drought.  Not to many pests seems to bother chard.  Leaf miners, slugs and aphids will sometimes attack.  I use a neem spray to knock out the insects and watch for slugs.  Pick the outer stalks, and new ones will emerge.  I use tiny chard leaves in salads, where their sweet flavor comes through.  Larger leaves are best when lightly steamed, and can be substituted for spinach in most recipes.  Chard stalks can be stemmed or stir-fried for a mild flavor and pleasant crunch.

Use chard as an accent among other vegetables or as a contrast to brightly colored annuals.  Pop a few Rainbow Chard in your flower beds or pots for added color, providing a bright, midsummer display.  Edible Landscape!

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