Grow It, Cook It, Eat it - Swiss Chard
Sometimes called Swiss chard, Leaf chard, Silver beet, Spinach beet or Leaf beet, it’s an annual grown almost as much for its thick fleshy stems as for the spinach-like leaves. Picked when small and very young, some varieties can be used raw in salads. As they get bigger you can steam the stems and serve them with black pepper and a little melted butter.
Apart from its vigour and nutritional value, this is a very attractive vegetable to grow as it comes in a variety of shapes and bright colours with stems ranging from champagne pink in Rhubarb chard, Rainbow chard has mixed pink, red, white and yellow stems and crinkly green leaves, through to Bright Yellow.
Nutritionally chard is a prince amongst vegetables with massive amounts of vitamins K and A, lots of vitamin C. It’s an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, iron, fibre and vitamin E and a very good source of calcium and B vitamins.
Any reasonable soil will do and although you can plant it straight into the soil it’s best grown in a seed tray and then planted out where you want it, a foot between plants and 50cm between rows. Sow in late spring to harvest throughout summer and early autumn and the hardy varieties will keep cutting pretty well till March/April the following year. Sowing half a row at 10 day intervals from late summer to early autumn should give you a healthy crop right through the winter. Some varieties grow well in big pots and others you can use as cut and come again crops just snipping a handful at a time then leaving the plants to re-grow.
My favourites all come from the Organic Gardening Catalogue which I’ve always found incredibly reliable and with slightly more unusual seeds for everything.
Rhubarb chard and Rainbow chard Bright Lights are both attractive red stemmed varieties but Rainbow can be cut young for salads or left to grow into really large leaves with wonderful flavour.
Erbette is the favourite Italian cut and come again to use raw in salads. I grow this in pots and put in the greenhouse through the winter where we eat from it right through till spring. You must keep cutting otherwise it bolts.
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