The name may be odd, but this nutritional powerhouse is easy to grow, even in heavy clay (though it prefers lighter soil).
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris vulgaris) is actually a beet that doesn’t develop the fat round root. Both plants, beets and chard, evolved (with some help from humanity) from the sea beet (Beta vulgaris maritima). Swiss chard is also called chard, spinach beet, silver beet, mangold, seakale beet, and bright lights. The bright lights name is a reference to the brightly colored leafstalks (petioles), that can be red, yellow, orange, purple, pink, or white. They look as amazing in your salad bowl as they do in your garden!
One of the nicest things about growing chard is that outer leaves can be removed frequently and the plant simply produces more inner leaves, creating a long term supply of easy to grow, highly nutritious food. Chard is so nutritious that just under half a cup of fresh chard provides 122% of the Daily Value of Vitamin A, 1038% of Vitamin K, and 50% of Vitamin C, and all with only 19 calories! Research has also shown that Swiss chard provides tons of antioxidants and even type 2 diabetes protection. If that weren’t reason enough, the brightly colored petioles of Swiss chard make it a lovely addition to your edible landscape and these plants are relatively drought-resistant.
Like parsley, chard is a biennial plant. While it can tolerate light frost, exposure to too much cold will trick it into thinking it has experienced a winter and can cause bolting.
How to grow Swiss chard
Chard can be grown as a summer or winter crop. In areas with scorching hot summers, Swiss chard will perform better as part of your shade gardening plan. Chard seeds should be planted 1/2 to 1 inch deep when temperatures are between 40 F to 95 F. Mature plants can be spaced 6 to 12 inches apart, with rows 15 inches wide, but keep in mind that the plants will grow 1 to 3 feet tall, with a spread of 1/2 to 2 feet wide. Mulching around each plant with aged compost will help stabilize soil temperature and add nutrients to the soil.
How to harvest Swiss chard
Chard is a very satisfying plant to grow. Germination occurs in only 5 to 7 days and you can begin harvesting very early in the plant’s life. There are two approaches to harvesting chard: leaf-by-leaf or cut-and-come-again. The leaf-by-leaf method mentioned earlier simply means outer leaves are removed as needed. The cut-and-come-again method refers to cutting the plant down to just an inch or two above the soil line, avoiding the growing point in the middle. New leaves will emerge from this point.
Pests and diseases of Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a durable plant that has few pest or disease problems. You may find that an overabundance of harvestable chard is your bigger problem, but you can always cook and freeze or gift the extras. That being said, aphids, leaf miners, and flea beetles will cause the most leaf damage, while leaf spot, powdery mildew, downy mildews, and beet curly top can infect Swiss chard plants. Row covers can be used to block these pests and proper plant spacing, feeding and irrigation can reduce the likelihood of disease.
To keep yourself in year round chard, these plants can also be grown indoors in containers. Because chard has a taproot, a 5-gallon planter is recommended.
There is far more beets that the canned, pickled variety. These easy to grow, sweet tasting vegetables love the Bay area’s mild winters, making them an excellent autumn crop.
How to grow beets
Beets grow well in full sun or in shade gardens and they absolutely love raised beds. Beets can be sown directly into the ground as temperatures begin to cool. Seeds should be planted 1/2 inch deep and thinned to 12 inches apart. It is a good idea to top dress around the plants to help retain moisture and add important nutrients. Be sure to water regularly, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Once you discover how delicious fresh beets really are, you will probably want to start planting them in succession, for a ready supply.
Beet pests and diseases
All of the usual pests will go after your beet plants: aphids, armyworms, cutworms, flea beetles, grasshoppers, leaf miners, leafhoppers, spider mites, whiteflies, and wireworms. Row covers can be used to protect young plants, but older plants seem to be well equipped to protect themselves. Diseases commonly occurring in beets include whitefly- and aphid-borne viral diseases, powdery mildew, curly top, and various root rots.
Perpetual beet harvest
Your beets can be harvested at any time, but most people wait until the beet root’s “shoulders” have pushed their way above ground. Before you pull up all of your beets, consider this: beets make a lovely foodscape plant. Rather than harvesting all of your beets, leave a strategic few in the ground. These plants will put out tall, feathery flowering stems. These stems will produce hundreds of seeds that you can allow to scatter naturally, or you can cut the stems and shake the seeds loose wherever you might want beets. Birds and other seed eaters will get most of your beet seeds, but, a lucky few, will , in time, germinate and produce new beets. It ends up, these seeds usually pick the best growing spots for beets. The greens of your seed-producing beets will continue to be edible for, well, I’m not sure how long. My two have been producing for nearly 3 years now. [So much for their classification as annuals...]
UPDATE: If a delicious, nutritious crop isn't reason enough to grow beets, cat owners have yet another reason: Research has just shown that adding beet pulp to your cat's food will help them poop out more hairballs, rather thank hacking them up.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!