Growing chard does not need special tricks or gardening acumen. It is definitely an easy vegetable to grow, and gives a high yield of fresh green leaves for a long time if you harvest cautiously.
Its best to sow chard in the mild between-seasons, in our Cape climate. Avoid early to mid winter, May to July, when it is too cold and the seed does not come up, and the growth of seedlings is static. Sowing in December and January are also not recommended. February is our hottest month and planting out at this time is going to lessen the chance of survival. I have to test all the claims of other growers on the net and in books, so I sowed chard in May myself, and got no results, when it is normally so easy, so the planting calendar is at least partially confirmed by experience. I do know that you can harvest chard all year though.
Sow chard seeds in pre dampened seed trays, and cover with about 4mm of fine material. Press gently and water in with a soft sprinkler. The seeds germinate well under plastic, but the plastic bag must be removed as soon as they germinate, or they get too spindly. Alternatively you can just keep the soil moist by sprinkling daily.
Our soil seems to be ideal for many leaf vegetables. It is deep low nutrient sand, and the natural vegetation is acid loving, low nutrient lowlands Fynbos, or the more lime tolerant Strandveld (Beach vegetation). This may sound a bit hopeless for vegetables but with a lot of organic matter in the soil, and the black crusty crumbs of old worm composting beds all over the garden as well as mushrooms that come up everywhere, leaf vegetables as well as lighter feeders like tomatoes do well. There is always a danger of dryness and I mulch deeply with compost and keep the ground covered with plants. Both these are water-wise gardening techniques which you can also use for wilting-prone leaf vegetables. You can also plant chard in buckets where it will do very well.
thorns protect young chard
chard, tomatoes and basil
At the earliest when your seedlings have four adult leaves, but preferably a little later when they are a bit larger, plant them out gently without disturbing the roots in a pre-wetted hole, and gently close the soil around them and mulch in the vicinity. In our garden I also surround new plants with a spiky barrier of thorns. If I don’t do this I will find them lying roots up the next day, as the local thrushes all know our planting media are full of worms and they are on the lookout for new plantings, fresh compost and disturbed soil.
Allow the plants to get large enough before harvesting as leaf removal is the removal of the plant’s food production surface area, so you only want to take a small share at a time. Let’s wait, say, till thay have at least 8 large leaves before harvesting.
To harvest you can pluck 2 leaves at a time off each large adult plant and it will keep them going for a while. Taking too many leaves at once will set them back. Harvest preferably from the outside inward. My permaculture teacher also advocated removing all wilted leaves. Break or preferably cut them at the stem. Remnants of dead material on the plant look messy and also allow molds and other pathogens to enter the plant via its veins.
That is it then. With a half dozen plants you will have a nice portion of organic greens for the kitchen for a two person household. Green vegetables without agro chemicals are the basis of a healthy diet.
There are many ways to cook chard and I suggest you visit my husband’s food blog for ideas, like this traditional German dish with chard, potato and eggs. Chard is called Mangold in German. It is a part of the enormous range of leaf vegetables eaten in that country. You will see, or you used to see it for sale on the town square on Saturday mornings in German villages. That is where I learned about Ärpelslot. Toss still warm baby potatoes with Pflucksalat and oily vinaigrette. It’s one of those simple-but-sublime salads. Find out how to grow lettuce here and harvest the leaves very young for a similar taste experience.
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