When I was a kid, we never ate chard.  But while working on a fishing boat owned by the Moonies (long story), I was introduced to this delicious green.  It’s such a beautiful vegetable, especially red chard, that when I finally started vegetable gardening, I had to try it.  Unfortunately, for some reason, I couldn’t get the red variety to grow.  Oh, it would grow, sort of, but never the glorious bunches shown in all the catalogues and vegetable gardening books.  So even though I have a decent plot, I’d find myself buying swiss chard at the market.  Then a few years ago the store started carrying a white stemmed green chard that always looked way better than the red chard, and I thought I might be able to figure out what variety it was and grow it.  And I did, and I have been having amazing success with chard ever since.  This vigorous variety is Fordhook Giant, an oldie but goodie. I usually harvest the outer leaves regularly throughout the growing season, and it just keeps growing and growing, from early spring until after the first frost of fall.  I’ve read that in more mild climates it will grow all through the winter, and I wonder if with some protection I could keep it going.

I’ve been starting my chard indoors in February, with my onions and lettuce, to get the earliest jump on the season.  However, last fall while experimenting with my cold frame, I planted swiss chard seeds.  They never germinated and I forgot all about them.  Then in early March, while checking things out, I noticed the chard growing.  At first I thought, what the heck is that and how did it get there?  But then my creaky middle-aged brain finally kicked in and a vague recollection of planting chard seeds appeared.  I continued to plant my planned patch this spring, but let those fall sown plants grow.  I have to say, they are bigger and more vigorous than the ones I started indoors.  I also found a couple of “spontaneously generated” chard plants in my other bed.  Did I plant them or are they self-sown?  We will never know, but they, too are very strong.  So I think that chard is probably better directly sown in the soil, although I did do that my first year growing Fordhook Giant, and the reverse seemed to be true.  Maybe the answer is that chard seeds like to sit in the soil all winter, and then germinate?  That seems like leaving your chard production up to a lot of chance, and I don’t know if I have the courage for that.  If I tried that system, I’d probably still start them indoors to hedge my bets, and then wind up with even more chard than I have now, (which is 20 plants).  DH says, do we really need that much chard?  Maybe not, but I’m sure my friends and family will be happy in about a month or two.

The biggest problem I have with chard is those pernicious leaf miners.  They have destroyed a lot of lovely leaves with their tunnels.  I bought some floating row covers this year, thinking I would cover my plants to protect them from this pest, but when it came down to it I’d rather see the plants than the covers, and take my chances with the bugs.  I read somewhere that the best way to defeat the leaf miners (other than row covers) is to be really vigilant about removing infested leaves, and throwing them out in the garbage (not composting).  I’d hate to jinx myself, but that’s what I’ve been doing this year and it seems to be working.  I just had my first big harvest this week, and it was delicious.  I cooked it with onions and garlic in olive oil, and then threw in some capers and chicken broth at the end and served it over pasta with some parmesan.   I like it to be completely wilted because the leaves can sometimes be a bit bitter, but that’s tamed if you cook it thoroughly.  Last year I discovered that it is especially good if you with shitakes, but it is also good just cooked with garlic and oil.  For anyone who wants to read even more about this leafy green, I recommend the following post on the blog, In My Kitchen Garden, which has pretty much everything you need to know about chard.

http://inmykitchengarden.blogspot.com/2007/09/how-to-grow-swiss-chard-from-seed-why.html

Finally, when harvesting the chard I use the same technique I talked about in my broccoli raab post.  I harvest the leaves in the morning and stand them up in a bowl of water.  They will keep this way for at least 3 days, maybe more, and instead of languishing in the fridge, will be an active reminder for you to cook it.

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