There’s a lot to like about chard, also known as leaf beet or silver beet. It’s stunning to look at, incredibly hardy, and remarkably versatile in the kitchen, offering essentially two crops for the effort of one. Curious? Then read on or view our video to find out how to sow, grow and enjoy a fine crop of generous chard!
Swiss chard is exceptionally easy to grow, making it a great choice for beginner gardeners looking for a no-fuss crop to get them started. Chard has broad, thick stems available in a range of colours: brilliant white, zingy yellow, and even lipstick pink!
Best Chard Growing Conditions
Chard loves a sunny, open position. Grow it in soil that’s both moist and fertile. Plants can occupy the same position for many months, so make sure you can afford to dedicate a suitable space for a longer period; don’t worry, it’s definitely worth doing so!
A week before sowing, scatter a general-purpose organic fertiliser then rake the soil to a fine tilth.
How to Sow Chard
Sow your seeds anytime from spring to late summer, when a quick late-season crop can often be squeezed in.
Mark out seed drills with a trowel. The drills should be about 1in (2cm) deep, with 16in (40cm) left between additional rows. If the ground is very dry, water along the drills before sowing to cool and moisten the soil.
The large, knobbly seeds can be sown one by one. Space them so they are about one to two inches (2-5cm) apart. Cover them back over with soil, gently pat down then water along the rows to further settle the soil and prime your seeds for germination.
Once the seedlings appear it is likely you will need to thin them out because each bumpy seed actually contains a little clump of several seeds which may all sprout. Thin them in stages until the plants are one foot (30cm) apart.
Chard For Successional Planting
An alternative to sowing directly into the ground is to start chard off in pots to plant out at a later date. This is particularly useful for succession planting, when your chard may need to be started off away from the plot and wait its turn while another crop finishes.
Once the previous crop is cleared, simply plant out the sturdy young chard at the same final spacing used for direct-sown seeds (above). This method can also help prevent slugs damaging the young seedlings.
Keep the ground free of weeds and water in hot, dry weather. Using a hoe to decapitate weeds as they appear makes the job a doddle. Regular watering will encourage plenty of fresh, leafy growth, and is essential in dry weather to stop the plants from running to seed, or ‘bolting’. If they reach this stage they should be dug up and added to the compost heap as they'll stop producing tender leaves.
Harvesting and Using Chard
Begin harvesting chard as soon as it reaches a usable size. The secret is to pick little and often, taking a few outer leaves from each plant at a time to allow new leaves to replace them.
You can extend the harvest period by covering plants in autumn with fleece.
At the start I mentioned that chard offers two crops for the effort of one. Here’s how: Strip the fleshy leaves away from the central stem, chop these up and steam or wilt in a pan in the same way you would cook spinach. You’re now left with the central midribs. Almost as tender as asparagus, they can be cooked in exactly the same way, perhaps served with salt and melted butter, a rich hollandaise sauce or dipped into a creamy soft-boiled egg yolk. Yum!