CHARD RANKS SECOND only to spinach in terms of total nutrient richness according to whfoods.org. It offers fantastic antioxidant protection in the form of phytonutrients known as carotenoids. It is in effect two vegetables to one – you can enjoy the coloured stems and the leaves (either raw as salad leaves when small, or cooked like spinach when larger).
Chard is an ideal vegetable for kids to try growing as it is incredibly easy to grow, withstanding all sorts of neglect. It is particularly useful in the winter vegetable patch, when its wonderful colours are most welcome. In fact, it is so pretty, it is often grown in flower borders and beds as an edible ornamental.
There are basically two options here. If you’re after large plants, then you should sow in module trays for later transplanting. Sow one seed per module. If you are after small ‘cut and come again’ leaves for salads, you can sow direct in the soil by making a wide drill about 2.5cm deep and sprinkling seeds in it. Leave 30cm between drills.
Chard can also be grown in containers. Sow seeds from March onwards (or earlier if growing in a polytunnel). Do a late summer sowing for winter harvesting.
Incorporate plenty of well rotted compost or manure to the soil the previous autumn. When you plant out the seedlings, allow 45cm between plants. If plants bolt in summer, simply cut them back and they will soon start to produce tasty leaves again. Weed regularly and water in dry weather.
Cover in winter with cloches or fleece to keep the worst of the weather off them.
Pick often to encourage the plant to produce tender new leaves. For salad leaves, cut individual leaves as required when about 5cm long. On larger plants, start harvesting leaves from the outside and work your way in to the centre. Whenever harvesting leaves, always leave about 5cm of the stem so the plant can grow back.
It will come again several times. Cook the stalks and leaves separately – the stalks take slightly longer to cook.
Rainbow Chard, Swiss Chard, Rhubarb Chard.
Chard is relatively immune to pests and diseases. Downey mildew can sometimes be an issue with densely sown ‘cut and come again’ chard.
1. Chard is a very attractive plant and is often grown in flower beds. The bright yellow and red stems bring a great splash of colour to a winter border.
2. Larger chard leaves can be frozen raw for later cooking.
Recipe of the Week – Chard Stem Gratin
Most chard recipes focus on the leaves, neglecting the stems as too tough to eat. This recipe does it the other way around, putting the stems centre stage in a lovely gratin. This is a really simple recipe and the tender stalks taste delicious.
If you don’t have two bunches of chard, don’t worry – just reduce the amount of breadcrumb mix for the top.
You can store the leaves in the fridge for later use.
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Stems from about 2 bunches of Swiss chard, trimmed of discoloured ends
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- About 1 tbsp. butter, softened
- 1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 190° C. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt and chard stems. Boil until stems are tender to the bite, usually 10 minutes or so (but depends on the size of the stems).
Drain and set aside. Rub a medium-size shallow baking dish with the cut sides of the garlic clove halves. Butter the dish and then put in the chard stems.
In a bowl, mix bread crumbs, parmesan, and 1 tbsp. butter.
Sprinkle mixture on stems. Cook until top is browned and crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.