Swiss chard is nutritious and beautiful in your garden

© All-American Selections
Bright Lights Swiss chard. (Photo courtesy of All-American Selections.)
Last Updated: 
April 2, 2007

CORVALLIS - Chard, also called Swiss chard, is a close relative of the beet. But unlike most beets, chard is grown for its tasty, vitamin-rich greens, rather than its root. The large green leaves have a texture similar to spinach and have edible fleshy red, yellow, orange, silver or white stalks.

The varieties of chard with more prominent and sometimes colorful stems are often classified as Swiss chards. Varieties with thin, more diminutive stems and tender leaves are known as chard, perpetual spinach or leaf beets. All are cooked as a potherb, similar to spinach.

The Oregon State University Extension Service recommends that home gardeners plant chard seeds about 30 days before the last frost date in your area. Plant about 6 to 10 chard seeds per foot, about an inch deep in nitrogen-rich soil. Plant in rows, 18 to 24 inches apart. Thin chard plants to about 12 inches apart to grow to their mature size, about 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall. Plants removed at thinning time can be used as salad greens. When plants get about eight inches tall, side dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Unless your family freezes or cans chard, four to eight plants may be enough for a family of four.

Chard can be harvested throughout an entire growing season, beginning when the leaves are seven to nine inches tall. Cut outer leaves first, about one inch from the soil surface with a sharp knife. Be careful not to damage the new inner stems and growing points.

Harvested chard can be stored unwashed in the refrigerator for a few days. For long-term storage, can or freeze chard. Chard can be eaten as a steamed vegetable, stir-fried and added to soups and casseroles. The OSU Extension Service recommends these varieties of chard for all areas of Oregon: Fordhook Giant, Rhubarb, Bright Lights, Bright Yellow and Silverado.

Fordhook Giant has white stalks. Rhubarb chard has dark green leaves and red stalks and can be an attractive plant for a flower border. Bright Lights has a mix of different colored stalks and is truly pretty enough to be in an ornamental border. Bright Yellow has yellow stalks and Silverado has silvery appearing stalks.

For more information see "Grow Your Own Lettuce, Spinach and Swiss Chard," EC 1268, online.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Deborah Kean