Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:29 pm
Chard is becoming increasingly popular in the hobby garden and not without reason! The healthy leafy vegetable can be harvested over a long period of time and even looks beautiful. In this article you will learn what you need to consider when growing chard.
- At a glance
- Light: sunny to semi-shady
- Water: even soil moisture
- Nutrient requirements: medium
- Soil: deep, humus-rich and nutrient-rich
- Germination temperature: 18 to 20 °C
- Planting depth: 2 – 3 cm
- planting distance: 30 x 40 cm
- good neighbors: legumes like beans and peas, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kohlrabi, radish and radish, garlic, carrots and parsnips
- bad neighbors: tomatoes, cucumbers, garden cress, spinach, beet, arugula and salsify
General information about chard
Chard (Beta vulgaris), like beet, evolved from the wild turnip. Whereas in beet a large tuber was grown, in chard the leaf growth was improved in the course of breeding. The lush leaves and bright colors make chard a decorative vegetable in the ornamental or kitchen garden. The chard plant is a biennial. In the first year, it forms a rosette of leaves with an erect height of 30-60 cm. The thickened root still suggests the resemblance to the beet, but it is not edible. Only in the second year, the chard plants begin to shoot, they go into flowering and form seeds. The large chard leaves are reminiscent of spinach and can be used in the same way. Both plants belong to the Amaranthaceae family. Among the chard varieties, a rough distinction is made between stem or ribbed chard (Flavescens group) and leaf or cut chard (Cicla group). The name already reveals which part of the plant is primarily used. However, both the stem and the leaves of both groups can be eaten.
In stem and ribbed chard, plants were primarily bred for fleshy, edible stems, but the leaves are also used. ‘Walliser’, ‘Genfer’ and ‘Brilliant’ are among the white-stemmed chard varieties. They are relatively shoot resistant and can develop leaf veins up to 10 cm wide. They tend to be mild in flavor and can be prepared similarly to asparagus. Another white variety is ‘Smooth Silver’, it is particularly well adapted to sandy soils. If you like it more colorful, you can also choose chard varieties with colorful stems. The varieties ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Five Colours’ produce plants whose stems can have different colors. They come in white, yellow, orange, red and purple – creating a colorful mix in the vegetable patch. Other colorful varieties include ‘Golden’ with bright yellow stems, and ‘Feurio’ and ‘Red Volcano’ with fiery red leaf veins.
In leafy and cut chard, only the leafy greens are usually used and prepared similarly to spinach. The stems are also edible, but they become much thinner than those of stem chard. Varieties such as ‘Hunsrück cut’ and ‘Green cut’ belong to this grouping. They have a nice mild taste and are usually hardy. Pure leaf chard is cultivated much less frequently than stem chard. The variety ‘Lucullus’ is an intermediate form between stem and leaf chard, where both stem and leaves can be eaten.
The right location
As a leafy vegetable, chard needs evenly moist soil, so the leaf stalks stay nice and tender and the leaves develop to their full size. Similar to beet, the soil should be deep, humus-rich and nutrient-rich. In cultivation, chard is similar to its bulbous relative, but the soil does not need to be loosened as deeply as with beet. For loosening the soil we recommend a digging fork, you should avoid digging if possible, as this disturbs the soil life too much. In our article on soil improvement you will find more information on how to gently loosen your soil. Choose a sunny to semi-shaded bed so that your chard plants have enough light available. Also work some compost and horn shavings into the soil to provide a good nutrient base.
Sowing & preplanting chard
You can sow chard directly in the bed or grow it in small pots and plant it out later. Sowing in the open begins in mid-April. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can sow as early as the beginning of April and then protect the seeds with a fleece overlay. Sow leafy chard in rows with 30 cm spacing, stem chard needs a little more space with 40 cm spacing. After the young plants emerge, you should thin out the rows so that the plants are not too close together and restrict each other.
After preplanting, the seedlings can be planted directly at the correct spacing, resulting in uniform stands. In rows, you should look for a spacing of 30 cm between plants and 40 cm between rows. Alternatively, chard seedlings can also be integrated sporadically into mixed cultures and even look extremely decorative in the ornamental garden. The variegated varieties with their yellow, red and purple stems are special eye-catchers. After planting, make sure that the young plants are well watered so that they can grow well.
Mixed culture & crop rotation with chard
Good neighbors are legumes such as beans and peas, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kohlrabi, radishes and radishes, and garlic, carrots and parsnips.
Bad neighbors are tomatoes, cucumbers, garden cress, spinach, beets, arugula and salsify.
Crop rotation: when growing Swiss chard, make sure to plant it in the same bed for 3 years. You should also avoid close relatives like spinach and beet for the time being and grow them in a different place. Good preceding crops are cabbages, cucumbers, celery and leeks. For example, potatoes are a good follow-on crop the next season.
Care & fertilize chard
Swiss chard is a medium grower and is therefore content with moderate fertilization. Before sowing or at planting, compost and horn shavings provide a good nutrient base. If the plants are very vigorous, they can be fertilized with a sip of plant liquid manure during the main season. However, the supply of compost and horn shavings is usually sufficient. Be sure to provide supplemental watering during dry periods so that yield and leaf tenderness do not suffer from drought. A good water supply promotes growth, so water well even after harvest. Water replenishment encourages new shoots, so the leaves inside grow back quickly. Swiss chard is relatively cold tolerant and can remain outdoors through the winter in mild regions. If you have a greenhouse, you can relocate the plants to extend the harvest season deep into winter. Learn more about growing vegetables in winter here.
Diseases & pests of chard
Chard is relatively hardy compared to other vegetables. Occasionally, it may become infested with powdery mildew. This fungus forms a floury white coating on the leaves and is usually due to insufficient plant spacing. A mixed culture with garlic can have a preventive effect due to the powerful essential oils. Thin out stands that are too dense and spray with garlic tea several times to repel the fungus.
Aphids often appear in the early stages after seedlings are set. Harvest the outer leaves of your plants regularly and stimulate root growth by hoeing thoroughly. Consistent watering afterwards will ensure vigorous new shoots. Generally, aphids do not pose much of a challenge to healthy chard plants. However, in the event of a heavy infestation, spraying several times with neem oil can provide relief.
Harvest & store chard
The first harvest of cut chard can be done as early as two months after sowing. Stem chard needs a little more time, here you can start harvesting three months after sowing. Always cut off the outer leaves first and leave the inside unharmed, here the plant grows continuously. The harvest season extends from June until the onset of frost in late autumn. In the greenhouse, the harvest season can be extended deep into winter.
The large leaves of chard quickly lose moisture after harvest and begin to wilt. Be sure to use freshly harvested chard as soon as possible; it has a short shelf life. You can put cleanly cut stems in water, so the leaves stay nice and crisp for several days. However, the stems soften after a short time in the water and can begin to rot. Therefore, cut off the softened parts generously when storing for a longer period of time and before eating. Alternatively, chard can be wrapped in a damp cloth or stored in a perforated bag in the refrigerator. Again, chard will only keep for a few days. Whole cut plants keep a little longer and are therefore more common in stores. When growing in your own garden, however, it is recommended to always harvest only as much as can be consumed fresh. If the harvest is abundant, both stem and leaf chard can be frozen. The leaves become mushy when frozen, but can then be prepared like frozen spinach.
Swiss chard can be prepared in many ways. The leaves, which taste particularly tender when young, can be blanched in a similar way to spinach. The stems are much firmer and therefore need to be cooked longer than the leaves. Finely chopped and pan-fried, chard enriches any vegetable dish, the taste is relatively mild and can thus be combined well. It is also excellent as a filling for a quiche or for coloring homemade pasta (leafy green). Chard can also be eaten raw, but as a rule, the healthy vegetable is cooked. It is rich in protein and vitamins, and chard also provides abundant folic acid, sodium, potassium, iodine, magnesium and iron. Since chard is one of the leafy vegetables, it contains a relatively large amount of nitrate. Nitrate is not toxic in itself, but it can be converted into nitrite, which is harmful to health. This happens when chard cools very slowly or stands at room temperature for a long time. Children should therefore not eat reheated dishes with chard or spinach, but this is not a problem for adults. However, too frequent reheating should be avoided. If you want to be on the safe side, always use a little lemon juice when cooking, as the vitamin C prevents the conversion of nitrate to nitrite.
Chard overwinter & propagate
Swiss chard is relatively hardy and can survive mild winters without special protection. However, if you want to be on the safe side, you should cut off the plants about 5 cm above the ground after the last harvest. Then the stalk, along with the thick surviving root, can be covered with fir brushwood or an air- and light-permeable fleece. Overwintered chard will resprout early in the year, providing fresh leafy greens. Plants can still be harvested for some time until they bolt. When shooting, the plants stretch and eventually form seeds on the long, fibrous stems. Theoretically, leaves can still be harvested when they shoot, but they are slightly bitter and are usually not eaten. If you want to harvest your own seeds, leave the shot chard plants until the seeds are ripe and the plants die on their own. Because flowering mangold plants can become very spreading, only a few should be allowed to reach seed maturity.