Chard or leaf beet is a delicious vegetable that’s quite easy to grow when you know the right technique.
Chard or Swiss chard is a type of leafy vegetable. The leaf stalks in cultivars of the Flavescens Group are large and frequently harvested separately from the leaves, whereas the Cicla Group includes leaf spinach beets.
This leafy vegetable can grow in extreme cold and hence is suitable for the UK climate. Since the plant is available in a wide variety of colours, you can choose among them while buying or collecting seeds.
The young leaf stalks of chard are eaten raw in salads while the larger ones are usually cooked. To improve the flavour while growing, you need to perform a few maintenance activities.
So if you are wondering how to grow chard in your vegetable garden, then follow our step-by-step guide below on growing chard at home.
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The biennial plant chard grows annually and produces big crinkly leaves that are quite attractive. Here are some recommended varieties of chard that are perfect for growing in the cold UK climate.
Bright Lights AGM (Our Favourite!)
Known for its red, yellow, gold and white leaves that look like a rainbow, this variant is perfect for the flower border. The bright lights chard plants look gorgeous while growing and the colour of the leaves remain intact after cooking. The mild, sweet flavour of the young plants make a great addition to salads. The plants can be sown from April to July and harvested from June to November. This variant is ideal for overwintering.
As the name suggests, this variant produces charlotte red stems and veins that look quite attractive among flowers or in a vegetable garden. This variant has the best resistance to bolting.
White Silver AGM
This variant makes a versatile addition to your vegetable garden. It produces glossy green leaves and thick, pure white stems. Overall, this variety of swiss chard seed produces quite robust plants. You can sow the seeds until August to harvest in the new year.
Fordhook Giant AGM
This cultivar produces shiny, dark green leaves and ivory stems that are quite flavourful. The stems are very succulent and long in size while the leaves are thick and tender. The green leaves are used in stir-fries and steamed vegetables.
Bright Yellow AGM
The name bright yellow refers to the cultivar’s broad golden stalks that look beautiful in a vegetable garden and flower border. The puckered leaves have a mid-green colour that remains after cooking. This variant has good winter hardiness.
You can plant chard outdoors in a sunny plot. In summer, the plants will need partial shade. The free-draining soil has to be rich, fertile and moisture-retentive. The process of planting chard starts from sowing and ends in the harvest. Here is how you need to sow chard seeds.
Before you plan to sow seeds, you need to prepare the plot by adding organic matter. The best time to improve the soil before you sow chard seeds is from autumn to winter. You can also include high potassium general fertiliser to enhance the soil richness. Vitax Q4 makes a good option, which should be added at a rate of two handfuls per square metre.
Sowing chard seeds from March to July is a perfect idea and the technique is to sow thinly about 10cm apart and 2.5cm deep. You can sow one batch in April and another in July. However, the second batch will produce crops in the following spring.
The alternate way is to sow seeds indoors in modular trays and then transplant outdoors when young seedlings grow. Never sow several seeds in a tiny space as that will affect the growth hugely. If you want your chard seed to produce mini leaves for salads, you need to sow in multiple batches every two weeks. If you want to pick leaves regularly, you can plant swiss chard seeds in broad drills.
Once the seedlings are mature enough to handle, you need to thin out 30cm apart. However, if you only want mini-leaves, you can thin out 5cm apart. The thinned seedlings can also be used in salads. During dry spells, you need to water the plants regularly.
If the soil becomes damp or warm, you need to use garden compost and create a thick layer of mulch. It will help you to retain the moisture of the soil and get rid of weeds growing in the plot. In winter, you need to cover seeds or plants with clothes for overwintering. You can also use a straw or a similar material to protect the crown. Later, you can cover the plant with horticultural fleece.
You can harvest swiss chard most of the year if you sow twice in mid-summer and in spring. The best part of harvesting swiss chard is that you can pick leaves for several months from a single plant. To harvest chard in the best way, you need to cut the outer leaves first as soon as they become young and tender. Then you can try cutting the leaves at the centre. It is recommended not to wait until the leaves reach their maximum sizes as that won’t give you the best taste and nutrition.
Most cultivars of chard ensure fall harvest and hence you will get the best crop during that time. But you need to ensure a consistent supply of tender crops and harvest regularly. Chard leaves and stems can be cut any time during their growth and even at the seedling stage or when they are above 5cm in height. As the tender leaves are in usable size, you can snip them. They will most likely regrow if you harvest carefully leaving a small stump.
Here are some common problems that you might have to face while growing chard in your garden. Some common diseases and pests can create trouble for the young leaves of seakale beet or chard even if you ensure cooler temperatures. However, we have provided some easy remedies that you can try to fully control them.
The downy mildew makes the situation worse in humid weather by leaving leaves unappetising. The tender growth of seedlings and young plants gets more harmed than the fully grown plants. Densely sown chard plants can collapse due to this problem.
If the weather condition is humid and warm, you need to plant thinly. It will improve the air circulation between seedlings and protect them from downy mildew. You need to water the soil frequently to save your plants from this problem. Sowing mildew-resistant varieties won’t cause this problem at all.
Pigeons and other birds can harm your vegetables including chard swiss plants as they tend to eat the seedlings, leaves, buds and vegetables. Though you should encourage birds in your garden, you need to be careful enough to protect your plants.
Covering the plants with netting or fleece would be the best idea as scarecrows and other bird scaring techniques won’t provide a long-term solution. Hence, you can choose a horticultural mesh or fleece to fully cover your swiss chard plants.
It is a fungal growth that can create discoloured patches all over the plants. This disease is the most common in warm or humid weather. Starting from fruits to leaves, everything can be damaged and hence you need to be careful.
Before the entire plants become infected, you need to identify and discard the damaged parts. Just cut out the discoloured tissues to save your plants from the infected debris. Also, avoid overcrowding and ensure enough ventilation in the greenhouse.