Growing a Top Superfood: Swiss Chard
Are you familiar with Swiss chard? Related to beets, this nutrient-dense, delicious, versatile vegetable doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention as popular greens such as spinach and kale. But it should!
An excellent source of vitamins A, B, C, K, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and potassium—it’s among the healthiest foods you can eat. And it’s easy to grow with Tower Garden!
Fun fact: Swiss chard is a Mediterranean plant and not actually native to Switzerland, as you might expect.
Choosing a Variety
There are a few different types of Swiss chard, and each has its advantages.
- Fordhook has medium-green, crinkly leaves and a white stalk. This variety is highly productive and resists bolting, resulting in a longer growing season.
- Bionda di Lyon has pale-green, smooth leaves and a white stalk. It contains less fiber than other types of chard, so the plant is tender with a mild flavor. Bionda di Lyon bolts quickly if it gets too big. So it’s best to harvest baby leaves before they grow large.
- Rhubarb chard has deep-green, crinkly leaves with bright crimson stalks that contain phyto-nutrients called betalains. This variety is frost-sensitive, unlike other types of chard.
- Magenta Sunset has a red stalk and medium-green, smooth leaves with a mild flavor. Its younger leaves are perfect for mixed green salads.
- Bright Lights is sometimes referred to as “rainbow chard.” Its green and bronze leaves are lightly crinkled, and the stems range from orange and yellow to purple and pink. As a whole, Bright Lights is milder and more frost-sensitive than regular chard.
Growing Swiss Chard
When it comes to greens, Swiss chard is unique in that it grows well from spring through fall. But it’s still considered a cool season crop with an optimal growing temperature of 50–70°, as these conditions produce the sweetest, most tender leaves. If you’re growing in warmer temperatures, consider planting Swiss chard where it will receive afternoon shade.
When starting Swiss chard, plant about 4 seeds per rock wool cube. Seeds should germinate within 1–2 weeks. And seedlings should be ready to transplant 2–3 weeks after sprouting. Because Swiss chard grows tall, we recommend planting it in the top section of your Tower Garden.
Tower Tip: For step-by-step instructions on starting seeds and transplanting seedlings, reference page 7 of the Tower Garden Growing Guide.
Preventing Pests and Diseases
Tower Garden reduces the risk of pests and plant diseases. But it's always good to be prepared! Keep a watchful eye for these pests and diseases:
- Aphids are small insects that typically feed on young plant growth, causing it to appear puckered or deformed.
- Flea beetles are small and vary in color from black to bronze to metallic gray. They feed on leaves, creating small, irregular holes. Excessive feeding can cause leaves to wilt.
- Leafminers live and feed between leaf surfaces. The signs of leaf miners are unmistakable: winding trails throughout the leaf tissue.
- Downy mildew looks like fine white cotton or frosting and often infects lower plant leaves first. It can spread rapidly and kill plants in cool conditions.
- Cercospora leaf spot causes small halo-like spots on plant leaves. As the disease progresses, spots enlarge, ultimately resulting in small holes before leaves turn brown and die.
Harvesting and Eating Swiss Chard
Ready to go Tower-to-Table? Leaves are most flavorful when the plant is 50–60 days old. But you can begin harvesting leaves when they are 4–5 inches long.
Keep these tips in mind when harvesting Swiss chard:
- Cut leaves near the base, being careful not to cut the stems of the inner leaves.
- Harvest the mature leaves first, leaving smaller leaves for continued production.
- Pick no more than 3–5 mature leaves from a plant at a time.
- Harvest often, as this encourages new growth.
- Remove old leaves that have lost their glossy sheen.
Swiss chard leaves make a convincing spinach substitute, as the stalks do for asparagus or celery. The healthy green is delicious simply sautéed with lemon juice and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. But Tower Gardeners also use it in salads, fried rice, scrambled eggs and even pesto! (Get those recipes here.)
If you harvest more than you can eat right away, rinsed and bagged Swiss chard will last about 4 days in the refrigerator. Alternatively, blanch and freeze or even dry excess produce.
Tower tip: For more tips on growing Swiss chard, download our PDF guide »
Have you grown Swiss chard? What are your top tips? Share them in the comments below!
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