Monday, 1 November 2010

How to grow 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 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 including Swiss Chard, Spinach Beet, Perpetual Spinach and Leaf beet.

How to grow Chard - Crop rotation

  • Chard is a member of the Beetroot Family, and it is recommended that it should not be grown in the same soil as other family members for at least three years.

How to grow Chard - Site and Soil

  • 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.
  • 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.

How to grow Chard - Soil 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.
    • Remove any large stones, as chard cannot compete with them.
    • A mechanical tiller is excellent at producing the fine tithe needed.

How to grow Chard - Sowing Seed

  • Sow Chard in early spring to avoid the final hard frosts. 
  • Chard is normally sown directly into the soil, not in pots or seed trays for later tranplanting. 
    • They can be sown in pots under cover for an earlier crop but the advantage gained is not much.
  • 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.

How to grow Chard - Cultivation

  • The main need is for weeding. 
    • This can be done by regular hoeing. 
    • An alternative is lay black plastic and let the plants grow through this. 
    • Black plastic is particularly useful for Swiss Chard because they stay in the ground for so long.
  • 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.

How to grow Chard - 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.
  • Whenever you harvest Swiss Chard, use a knife rather than pulling off the leaves. 
    • Grasp the leaves you want to harvest with one hand and cut them off at about 3cm (1 inch) above the point where they join the stem. 
    • This will ensure that more leaves grow. 
    • If you take the leaves off too near the stem then the leaves may not grow again.
  • The best leaves for salads are the younger leaves, about 8cm (3 inches) long. 
    • They are tender and have no bitter taste. 
    • If you want to cook leaves as greens then leave some outer leaves to grow larger and harvest those.
  • In winter the outer leaves may be damaged by a hard frost. 
    • If this happens, leave the outer leaves in place to protect the inner leaves. 
    • The inner leaves can then be harvested for use in salads throughout the winter.
  • 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.

How to grow Chard - Kitchen Notes

  • 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.

How to grow Chard - Storing & Preserving

  • 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.

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