Swiss chard: delicious, nutritious, versatile and easy to grow! (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2014

Enjoying July’s Gardening Bounty

After worrying so about getting such a late start to my annual vegetable gardening adventures, I was so happy to be able to make my first harvest last week.  I came home with a cucumber, a fistful of mixed herbs, and a small tomato (that my husband popped into his mouth and gobbled up, whole!). Add to this two jalapenos, two baby zucchinis and a handful of peas that were gifted to me by other gardeners, and I had my veggies planned for dinner that day.

By far the best part of our “firstfruits” was a plastic grocery bag full of the first cutting of baby Swiss chard: green, red-veined and crimson jewels, tender and wonderful.

Early summer greens are often the first of the bounty we harvest from our gardens. Swiss chard is a great early crop. Being so early, it avoids many pests, so it makes a fresh, clean, chemical-free and easy-to-grow choice for folks wanting to get a jump start on the gardening season. Because you can cut and regrow it several times, and can eat the entire portion that you harvest, it is an economical choice for folks who want to cut their food bills in the summer. And the amazing nutritional value and cooking versatility of greens like Swiss chard make them perfect additions to your meals. If you need convincing, continue on to read my three reasons why you should grow Swiss chard in your spring garden.

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Reason #1: Growing Swiss Chard is So Easy!

Swiss chard loves cool weather, so you can plant the seeds directly into the soil as soon as it can be worked (about the same time you’d plant peas in the Northeast). If you want an earlier start (as we did), you can start a few plants indoors in February, and plant them out in the early spring, covering them lightly if you get harder frosts. Chard is so easy to grow that, as long as it’s watered, you can nearly forget about it.

Because you want big, green leaves (and not flowers or fruit), you can plant Swiss chard in areas that might get a little shady in the summer. The cooler temperatures there will also extend your season a little bit, because chard is a cool-season lover.
You don’t need any special materials to grow Swiss chard — but here are a few tips for maximizing your harvest. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2014

When the plants are about 8″-12″ tall, simply use a sharp knife to cut the whole top of the plant off, about 3″ from the soil line. You will notice that there are several tiny new leaves coming up in the center of the rosette you left in the soil (like the “heart” of a head of Romaine lettuce). These will regrow for a second cutting in a few weeks.

After you cut your chard (which was mid-July for us, in Connecticut), you will want to encourage new leaf growth by topdressing your chard plot with composted manure, humus or other nitrogen-rich fertilizer (remember, leafy crops love nitrogen fertilizers). Continue to cut and fertilize as long as your chard resprouts. Tip: some varieties, like Fordhook Giant, are more tolerant of heat, so including them in a mix ensures that your chard harvest is extended a few more days.


Besides an early harvest, an additional benefit to using the “cut-and-come-again” method of harvesting chard is that you avoid invasion by leaf miners, a common pest of greens in our area. You will be harvesting the leaves while tender, and before they can be attacked by these insect pests. The bunches I harvested had very few miners, and they had only begun to munch — I simply culled those leaves out when I was preparing the chard. These baby chard leaves are also tender, through and through, so you will not need to cook the stems separately, as you do when using large chard leaves.

New to growing Swiss chard? Check out these articles on this and other easy-to-grow crops for home gardens:

{Although our focus in this post is on spring and early summer gardening, remember to throw some Swiss chard seed or plants in empty places in your garden NEXT month, for some great fall pickings…}

Reason #2: Swiss Chard is a Versatile Vegetable for Early Summer Cooking

I had two rows of Swiss chard (about 16 sq. ft. of planting), and my first cutting produced enough chard for three meals (one super-stuffed plastic grocery bag full). My first recipe, Sauteed Swiss Chard with Parmesan Cheese, was enjoyed by all (we love cooking with greens — then eating them!). Follow the visual recipe in the gallery, below, for my absolute favorite recipe, Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche. Using the multi-colored chard made the resulting quiche look like it had flecks of pink bacon in it, but it was a truly delicious vegetarian dish.

Here’s one that I can’t wait to try: Swiss Chard and Ricotta Manicotti. It takes a family favorite — manicotti — and substitutes shredded Swiss chard for a big chunk of the cheeses. When I pinned this recipe to my July Gardening Pinterest board, my Aunt Jeanne immediately pronounced it a hit.


Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche — a Visual Recipe


Reason #3: Swiss Chard is Not Just Delicious, But Nutritious!

As if you need another reason to plant a few Swiss chard plants in your garden, check out what you get out of one cup of Swiss chard (see graphic, right).
One cup of Swiss chard — only 7 calories, but so much good stuff for you! (Image credit: USDA).

I was treated for breast cancer in 2009 and 2010. Chemotherapy, steroids, chemically-induced menopause, multiple surgeries and the general business of healing from a major illness have a serious impact on a body. So I’ve tried, ever since then, to make sure that I put the best things possible into mine.

It is hard to argue about the nutritional density of Swiss chard. Whether you are recovering from illness (as I am), looking to lose weight, or simply making positive changes in your diet, the addition of Swiss chard to your menus will go a long way toward improving your overall health. And its mild flavor makes it easy to sneak a handful into many of your favorite dishes.

For a start: Sautee a few shredded leaves with your onions, peppers, garlic or whatever other vegetables you use as the basis for casseroles, sauces and soups. Or add the most tender leaves to summer salads.
Interested in purchasing Square Foot Gardening? Click title in this captiuon for more information on ordering.

Short on Space for Swiss Chard? Not to Worry…

You don’t have to have a lot of space to grow Swiss chard. Check out two of my favorite gardening books for information on gardening in small spaces (click images for ordering information). My father has been a “Square Foot” fan for decades — he and my mom find it to be a very useful technique for gardening on the sandy soil of their new Florida digs. We use the “Magic Square” garden ideas to add mini-veggie gardens all around our super-sized urban lot, and my eldest son asked for a copy of the book for his own gardening library. Both books are highly recommended!
Interested in buying One Magic Square? Click the title in this caption for more information on ordering.


Stay tuned for August gardening tasks:

  • continue to support tomatoes as they grow (using Florida Weave this year);
  • plant fall crops;
  • begin harvesting tomatoes;
  • use cardboard mulching to prepare new beds for fall planting.

Happy planting (and eating)!

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