Swiss chard is one of the easiest and most versatile of vegetables for home gardens. Its colorful stems and big, crinkly leaves are packed full of nutrients. Read on for tips on growing Swiss chard.
What is Swiss Chard?
Swiss Chard – beta vulgaris subsp. vulgarisis a leafy vegetable in the beet family, but it does not develop the typical beet root section. It is often just called chard, and also known as spinach beet, silverbeet and crab beet.
The name chard comes from the French word carde, which refers to an artichoke thistle. It is unclear why the adjective Swiss is added to chard, since the plant is not native to Switzerland.
Some think that the plant was named by a Swiss biologist.
The strong leaves hold up well in cooking and the stems are quite crisp. The flavor of chard is a combination of the earthiness found in beets and the bitter taste of spinach.
The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Older leaves are less bitter than the newest growth. Cooking at a lower heat can also tame the bitterness of chard.Swiss chard is a member of the beet family and is known as a cut and come again vegetable. It's super-easy to grow from seeds. Get some growing tips on The Gardening Cook. 🌿🌿 Click To Tweet
Types of Swiss Chard
Chard plants come in many varieties. Major types are Bright Lights, Bright Yellow, Rhubarb Chard, Rhubarb Red and Ruby.
The term rainbow chard is used to describe the bright colors of the multi-colored stalks. To get rainbow chard, choose a packet or seeds labeled as such, since it will be a mixture of the various types.
The ruffled leaves of chard grow on long stalks that range in color from white to bright red, with many hues in between the two. You can also get plants with plain green stalks.
Growing Swiss Chard
Swiss chard makes a great edible and ornamental plant because of the color of its stalks.
Swiss chard can be grown from seeds or from seedlings. Read on to get growing tips for Swiss chard plants.
Swiss Chard growing season
Rainbow chard is considered a cool weather crop. It has a longer growing season than lettuce and spinach, other crops that enjoy cooler temperatures. It is a very popular cold hardy vegetable.
My experience with Swiss chard, here in NC, is that it grows very quickly in the spring months. It still grows in summer, however at a much slower rate.
Rainbow chard grows well in all planting zones. However, in hot zones you will get a better crop if you grow it in very early spring and then again in late fall. Chard does not stand up to the summer heat.
How long does it take to grow Swiss Chard?
Swiss chard grows quickly and the length of the planting time to harvest spanning about 55-60 days.
The cut and come again nature of the plant extends this harvest time considerably. But don’t let the plant leaves get larger than 10 inches or they will lose flavor.
A series of succession planting will ensure a steady crop all season long.
How to grow Swiss chard from seeds
Soaking the seeds before planting will speed up their germination.
Sow the crinkly tan seeds of rainbow chard any time from early spring to early summer. Plant the seeds 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost date. A soil temperature of 50°F is ideal.
Plant the seeds 1 inch deep and 2 to 6 inches apart.
For a fall harvest crop, plant the seeds about 40 days before the first fall frost.
Once the seeds start growing, thin the seedlings to about 6-12 inches apart. I grow mine spaced about 6 inches apart, since my plants are growing in a raised bed vegetable garden. The wider you space the plants, the larger the leaves will grow.
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Growing Swiss chard in containers
The size of Swiss chard plants makes them ideal for growing in pots. Having a few containers of them on a vegetable garden on a deck will give you a steady stream of Swiss chard leaves and stems to use in recipes throughout spring and early summer.
Growing Swiss Chard in a raised bed
Raised garden beds are also a good choice for Swiss chard. I harvest mine regularly during the spring, so having a raised planter makes this task easier.
I have a raised garden bed made of cement blocks and I plant the smaller edging holes with Swiss chard plants. This makes them very easy to harvest and gives them proper spacing when they are mature.
Sunlight, soil and watering needs for Swiss chard
Plant Swiss chard seeds or seedlings in full sun. This is a vegetable that likes to get 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.
Here in NC, I have my plants growing in a garden bed that gets full sunlight from about 2 pm on for the rest of the day and it grows well.
Water regularly to maintain the growth of the plant. My chard leaves replenish themselves after harvesting in about a week as long as I keep the watering level up.
Choose well draining soil that has compost or other organic matter added to it. If your soil is of poor quality, you can add a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer.
What are good Swiss chard companion plants for Swiss Chard?
Using companion plants in a vegetable garden is a natural way to deter pests and avoid diseases that seek out species that are too alike.
Plants to avoid are most herbs except for mint which does well near by. It’s also good keep chard away from corn, cucumbers, potatoes and melons as these will compete for the nutrients in the soil and harbor harmful pests.
Harvesting Swiss Chard
Do you have a pair of scissors? Put them to good use! To harvest Swiss chard, don’t pull up the plants. Swiss chard is a cut and come again vegetable.
One way to keep the harvest growing after the first hard freeze in the fall is to dig up the plants with the roots attached and put them in a pot and bring into a cool area (like a garage or unheated laundry room).
You will be able to continue to harvest the leaves throughout the winter.
When to harvest Swiss chard
When rainbow chard plants are about 2 months old, you can begin cutting the outside leaves from the plants as needed for your recipes. New leaves will grow up from the cut area.
Once the leaves get larger (about 6 inches long) you can cut the plant just above the soil line with your kitchen shears and use the stems and leaves in your recipes.
The plant will regrow before you know it and you’ll have another crop in about 7-10 days.
You can continue harvesting all summer. The plant will seldom bolt to seed. If bolting occurs, pull up the plant and throw it on the compost pile, since it will have a bitter taste after it bolts.
Freezing Swiss chard
Swiss chard is best eaten fresh, but it can be frozen for up to a year.
To freeze the chard, wash well and then separate the stems from the leaves. Blanch the stems and leaves and then place in an ice bath.
Drain and place in freezer bags. Label with name and date. Freezing Swiss chard will help you make use of the last of the crop in the fall if you can’t bring the plants indoors.
Nutrients in Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a superfood and an excellent source of vitamins, A, K and C. It is also a good source of potassium, iron, magnesium and dietary fiber.
One cup of cooked Swiss chard has only 7 calories and a cup of raw has only 35 calories. Chard contains 3 times the recommended daily amount of vitamin K and 44% of the recommended amount of vitamin A.
It also contains antioxidants and beta carotene. It is a great vegetable to grow and eat.
How to cook Swiss chard
Cooking rainbow chard is super easy! It takes just minutes and has a ton of flavor. Chard makes a great addition to casseroles, stir-fries, soups and salads.
Both the leaves and the stems of chard are edible and tasty. Stems take a bit longer to cook than the leaves, so they should be cooked separately, or start the stems before you add the leaves.
When preparing chard for cooking, I use a sharp knife to cut out the stems and then slice them into inch long pieces and cook them for a few minutes before I add the whole leaves.
The easiest way to cook Swiss chard, in my opinion, is to sauté both the leaves and the stems. You can use a bit of garlic and some white wine to add extra flavoring.
Since Swiss chard already has 313 mg of sodium in each cup of the raw vegetables, it is advisable not to add too much extra salt when cooking it.
Other ways to cook with Swiss chard are to roast the leaves, or grilled Swiss chard leaves on the barbecue. I also like to add rainbow chard leaves to stir fries and just let the leaves wilt for a while.
One thing to keep in mind when cooking Swiss chard is that you will need a lot of chard when you start, much like spinach. The vegetable wilts a lot when cooked.
Swiss Chard Recipes
While Swiss chard is a great addition for any salad or stir fry, there are lots of creative ways to use it in recipes, as well. Try one of these sometime soon.
- Ziti pasta with sausages and Swiss Chard
- Awesome Swiss chard breakfast skillet
- Sauteed Swiss Chard with lemon and Parmesan
Recommended varieties of Swiss Chard
Look for Swiss chard seeds at your local Big Box hardware store, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. I bought some small seedling plants this year from a small local garden shop that I frequent in the spring.
Your nearby Farmer’s Market is a good source of Swiss chard seedlings. Many online companies sell Swiss chard seeds.
Swiss chard varieties to look for are:
- Ruby Red – Dark green leaves with bright red stems. Has more of a tendency to bolt.
- Rainbow- A mixture of red, pink, yellow, orange and white stems. Very colorful in the garden.
- Fordhook Giant – Dark green leaves with white stems. A compact plant in spite of the name.
- Bright Lights – Dark green leaves with multi-color stems. Not as frost resistant as some varieties.
- Peppermint – Green leaves with white stems. Quite heat tolerant.
Pin these tips for growing Swiss chard for later.
Would you like a reminder of these rainbow chard growing tips? Just pin this post to one of your vegetable gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Admin note: This post first appeared on the blog in June of 2013. I have updated the post with all new information and photos and have added a printable growing tips card and a video for you to enjoy.
- Swiss Chard seeds
- Organic matter or compost
- Hose or watering can
- Choose a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours or sunlight a day.
- Add organic matter to the soil and till well.
- Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 2-6 inches apart.
- Thin plants to 6-12 inches (the wider the spacing, the larger the leaves will be)
- Water consistently.
- Cool and warm loving crop but slows down in the summer.
- In very hot regions, sow as a fall crop.
- Harvest outer leaves starting at 60 days.
- When the leaves are about 6 inches long, cut the whole plant back to just above the ground level. New leaves will grow.
- Don't let leaves get larger than 10 inches or they will lose flavor.
- Can be frozen in the fall, or brought indoors as whole plants and potted to harvest during the winter.
Print out the Swiss chard growing tips printable below and add it to your garden journal.
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