Swiss Chard is a beautiful plant as well as a nutritious green and could easily be grown as a showy plant. It is perhaps one of the most nutritious greens you can grow. Recent studies have shown that Swiss Chard contains at least 13 different polyphenol antioxidants. One of these is syringic acid that helps regulate blood sugar which prevents carbs from breaking down into simple sugars. In addition, the reddish purple stems of Swiss chard contain betacyanin which supports the body’s immune system through its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxing effects.
Swiss Chard is a member of the beet family, therefore, do not plant it in a location vacated by beets, and don’t plant beets in a location vacated by Swiss Chard. Like all annual vegetables, plant Swiss Chard in soil that has lots of organic material, specifically compost, worked into it. Soil with lots of organic material, holds nutrients and moisture needed for fast growth. It will grow in full sun, but will also grow in an area with partial afternoon shade. It can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. so plant it as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.
This is a very flexible plant and can be grown the entire growing season by planting it in the spring, summer and fall. It makes a good fall crop and can also tolerate heat, and does not readily go to seed like other greens and as a result makes a good summer green. Swiss Chard requires lots of room to grow, so plant seeds one-half inch deep and four inches apart. It can also be planted in peat pots or homemade newspaper pots indoors and then transplanted outdoors as seedlings into the garden.
Bush beans (but not pole beans), onions and kohlrabi are excellent companions for Swiss Chard. With the exception of mustard, Swiss chard also grows well with other salad greens of both the lettuce and the cabbage families.
When the Swiss Chard plants reach two inches in height, weed them well and begin adding mulch. I usually like to start with a half inch of grass clippings followed by a couple inches of well-rotted sawdust. Using this type of mulching eliminates the need for any type of additional feeding during the growing season. It requires about an inch of water per week.
The only problem that Swiss Chard may have is with cutworms. If it is found cut off at ground level, cutworms are the likely culprit. Cutworms are often found in soil that was in grass the prior year, so if you plant Swiss Chard in soil vacated by grass, sprinkle crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth around young plants to prevent further damage.
Harvesting Swiss Chard is easy. Simply twist leaves and remove them from the outside of the plant regularly from mid-summer until the ground freezes in early winter.
To preserve nutritional value it is best to prepare and serve Swiss Chard right after harvesting it. Rinse it under cold running water. Do not soak it because this will cause water-soluble nutrients to leach into the water. Remove any part of the leaves that are brown, slimy, or full of holes. Slice the leaves into one inch segments until you reach the stem and discard the stems.
The healthiest cooking method is to boil it. This helps free up acids allowing them to leach into the boiling water and increase the sweetness. Place the Swiss Chard into a 3 quart pot of boiling water and cook it for 3 minutes. Begin timing as soon as it is placed in the boiling water. Do not cover the pot when cooking it which would allow oxalic acids can be released with the steam.
Remove the Swiss Chard from the boiling water and place it in colander to drain. Press out the excess liquid with a fork and place it in a bowl. Add balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste. It can also be tossed with penne pasta, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, added to omelets or used in vegetarian lasagna.
Swiss Chard can be frozen. Once it has been cooked and drained, squeeze out excess the water and place it in quart size freezer bags. Squeeze the excess air from the bag to prevent freezer burn and flatten the bag so it can be stacked in the freezer. Use it within the next six months.