Growing Swiss Chard

With spring in the air, I had to talk about one of my favorite cool weather crops – Swiss Chard!  Swiss Chard is a leafy green that has a similar flavor to spinach.  I can be eaten raw in salads or on sandwiches, and it can also be cooked.  I personally like it wilted with a fried onion. 

There are three main types of Swiss Chard to choose from:

White-stemmed varieties consistently outperform their more colorful counterparts in terms of productivity and bolt resistance.

Brightly colored varieties are the queens of edible ornamentals. Varieties bearing red, pink, yellow or orange ribs are available individually or in pre-packaged mixtures.

Perpetual varieties, which are often called perpetual spinach, have thinner stems and smaller, smoother leaves than larger varieties, and they taste more like spinach. The short, stocky plants work well in small gardens and containers.

When to Plant

In spring, sow directly in the garden two weeks before your last frost date or start seeds indoors three to four weeks before your last frost date and set seedlings out just as the last frost passes.  In fall, start seeds about 8-10 weeks before your first frost date.

How to Plant

Prepare a rich, fertile bed by loosening the soil while mixing in compost and a balanced organic fertilizer, applied at label rates. Plant seeds half an inch deep and 3 inches apart. Set out seedlings 12 inches apart. Indoors or out, thin newly germinated seedlings with cuticle scissors instead of pulling them out. Chard seed capsules often contain two or more seeds. If more than one germinates, promptly snip off all but the strongest sprout at the soil line. As the seedlings become established, gradually thin them to 12 inches apart.

Pest and Disease Prevention Tips

  • Cercospora leaf spot is a fungal disease that causes light brown patches surrounded by purple halos to form on leaves of chard, beets and sometimes spinach. Warm, rainy weather favors outbreaks. Keep plants properly spaced to promote good air circulation and promptly remove any affected leaves.
  • Slugs often chew holes in chard leaves and rasp grooves in the ribs, feeding at night and resting through the day in mulch. Trap them in beer-baited traps, use an iron phosphate slug control product, or try repelling them by surrounding your chard plants with crushed eggshells.
  • Viral diseases cause new growth to be small or distorted, with unusual crinkling of leaves. Plants sometimes outgrow infection. Watch affected plants for a week or two and pull out those that show no signs of improvement.