How to grow chard – an easy beginner’s guide
- By: Ashley Saunders
- March 2021
Chard or Swiss chard (Latin: Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla) as it’s often known is prized for its medicinal properties and culinary versatility. If your yet to start a veg patch, then it’s worth trying to grow chard as it’s easy, tasty and always provides a plentiful crop.
It has an impressive history having been written about by Aristotle in Ancient Greece and used extensively in China during the 7th century BC! Closer to home, we’ve been growing Chard in Britain since 1596 as noted by famed, English botanist, John Gerard in his book Herball.
While chard might not be the most popular vegetable to grow, it’s a pretty plant to look at and has many health benefits. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads. The mature leaves can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, and added to tarts, stews and sauces.
It is packed with antioxidants and contains high levels of vitamins K, A and C, magnesium, potassium, iron and fibre. Eating plenty of chard can help maintain bone health, improve digestion, regulate blood sugar levels and contribute to healthy brain function.
Let’s explore how to grow chard in your garden and enjoy this biennial plant!
Interesting chard facts!
Chard plants can grow up to 60 cm (2 feet) high!
Legend has it that a Swiss botanist was responsible for determining the scientific name and ‘Swiss’ stuck. In fact, Swiss chard originates from Sicily, Italy.
Even though Swiss chard is a type of beet, it has an inedible root.
Chard was one of a handful of crops tested as part of NASA’s Veggie Project to determine the best way to grow vegetables for long-term space missions.
Unlike Swiss cheese, Swiss chard does not have holes!
Swiss chard is regularly used in Mediterranean cuisine.
The ideal conditions to grow chard in is full sun, however, it will tolerate partial sun. You will want to ensure that your soil is well-draining. Before planting, it’s worth mixing in compost and letting it rot into the ground.
If your soil is particularly poor, then use a balanced fertilizer on the planting site. Chard prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral).
As fairly greedy plants, they will appreciate a steady but low supply of nutrients. So, it’s worth using long-lasting organic fertilisers such as bonemeal.
There is a superb range of Swiss chard varieties. If you want to grow beetroot, then try one of the varieties recommended by RHS:
‘Bright Lights’ AGM
Noted for producing a rainbow of coloured stems, making it ideal for a flower border. Mild, sweet flavoured and capable of over-wintering.
‘Bright Yellow’ AGM
Distinguished by its bright golden-yellow stalks (petioles) with mid-green puckered leaves.
Striking red stems and veins, upright leaves and neat habit.
‘Fordhook Giant’ AGM
An attractive shiny green, puckered leaves with long succulent white stalks.
‘White Silver’ AGM
A very robust variety that’s noted for its thick white stems with glossy green leaves.
With your soil ready, it’s time to plant chard seeds into the ground during April. However, first and to speed up germination, soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting.
It’s best to sow seeds about 2.5 cm (1-inch) into the ground and space them roughly 5 to 15 cm (2 to 6 inches) apart in rows. Space rows about 45 cm (18 inches) apart. As chard seeds come in clusters, the result is multiple seedlings emerging from a single planting hole.
Once the plants reach 10 cm (4 inches) tall, thin them so they are roughly 15 cm (6 inches) apart. For larger plants, thin them to 30 cm (12 inches). Use scissors to remove leaves and enjoy snacking on the young seedlings!
Unlike beets, which need plenty of space for their roots to expand, chard is primarily grown for its leaves. So thinning isn’t as important as it is with other plants. Plus, crowded chard plants tend to produce smaller leaves.
Alternatively, you can sow seeds in trays, allow to grow and transplant when large enough to handle.
How to nurture chard
Chard doesn’t need much nurturing to keep it growing and healthy. You shouldn’t need to use fertilizer unless your plants seem to be small. In this case, consider applying a balanced fertilizer halfway through the season.
It’s best to water Swiss chard evenly and consistently as this provides the ideal growing conditions. Water plants often during dry spells in the summer. As you would with other vegetables, when you grow chard, spread mulch often as it helps to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
When plants are about 30 cm (1 foot) tall, use scissors to cut leaves back to 10 cm (4 inches) as this will encourage new tender growth. An overgrown chard plant starts to lose its flavour, so it’s worth tending to yours regularly.
Depending on your use, you can harvest chard roughly 30 days after planting. These baby leaves are ideal for salads. For full-sized leaves with a thick midrib, you’ll need to wait until 45 to 60 days after sowing to harvest.
Ideally, you’d harvest your chard before you start cooking to ensure the best flavours.
Using either garden scissors or a serrated bread knife, cut the chard leaf by leaf. You can remove the whole plant by cutting 2.5 cm (1-inch) above the soil. Either way, the plant will keep producing new leaves.
As soil often sticks to the leaves, fill a sink with lukewarm water and let them sit for a minute or two, and then place them in a colander to drain. Finally, allow to air dry or pat the leaves dry with a cloth or paper towel before storing.
How to store fresh chard
After harvesting, you should ideally eat your chard within a few days as it doesn’t stay fresh for long. Younger, smaller leaves will go bad slightly earlier than more mature plants.
You can wrap your chard loosely in a damp paper towel and store it in an unsealed plastic bag in the crisper. Again, it’s advisable to eat the stalks and leaves within a few days.
Be aware that chard that is stored too cold or too long will develop brown spots on the midrib and the leaves will wilt and yellow. These plants will most likely be inedible or only part can be saved and used.
Common pests and problems
Part of growing any vegetables is managing pests and diseases. And sadly, it’s no different when you grow chard. Here are the most common issues to look out for as well as how to solve them.
These insects love feeding on vegetables and so are worth watching for when you grow peppers. Look for misshapen or yellow leaves as well as distorted flowers and fruit. You might also spot a large presence of ants on plants.
There’s plenty of ways to make aphids leave your crop along including growing companion plants or ones that repel them (such as basil or rosemary). You can also mix water and insecticidal soap and spray the solution over the plants.
Slugs and snails
Feeding on young seedlings, slugs and snails are easy to identify as you’ll notice slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves. Luckily, it’s easy to stop slugs and snails in their tracks by using sawdust, eggshell barriers or beer traps.
Often a problem in damp conditions, mould can occur when the plants are grown too closely together. Avoid this problem by thinning the plants to 30 cm apart and harvest the leaves regularly.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause a multitude of problems. Thankfully, you can cover plants with netting or fleece, which will deter birds.
That’s how to grow chard!
Now you can successfully grow chard, you might want to challenge yourself and expand your veg patch. We’d recommend growing raddishes, cabbage and turnips. All are staples that can be used in numerous dishes.