I always thought that chard is a typical leafy green vegetable, so it took me by surprise when I discovered it’s actually the same species as garden beet (beetroot). I would never guess these two vegetables are so closely related, although their botanical names are almost identical (“beta vulgaris var. cicla” for chard and “beta vulgaris” for garden beet)…
Despite the fact that chard is basically a bottomless beet, it still has a lot in common with leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach and arugula:
- It is a cool season vegetable.
- It thrives in soils rich in organic matter and nitrogen.
- You can harvest it in the “cut and come again” way.
However, there’s one important difference that sets chard apart from other leafy greens. It can take heat much, much better!
Those who have experience with growing leafy greens like lettuce, arugula or corn salad know these leafy greens start bolting as soon it gets warmer outside. Once temperatures rise towards the end of spring or beginning of summer, they bolt: They stop producing new leaves and focus their energy into flower and seed production. Their leaves then turn bitter and hence inedible.
Chard is different though. It doesn’t really mind the heat and keeps growing new leaves even during summer!
It’s harvest season is therefore much longer than that of typical leafy greens, which is a great news for growers like you and me. We can enjoy it for months throughout the whole gardening season without worrying it will bolt and become distasteful.
Choose a fertile, well-draining and sunny part of your garden…
It’s very important that you plant chard in a fertile part of the garden with soil rich in plant nutrients, especially in nitrogen. Just like other leafy greens, this leafy green vegetable too needs nitrogen to grow and form new leaves quickly…
This is the guide where I explain how I ensure my garden soil has enough nitrogen in it. In short, I keep adding organic matter (such as grass clippings, remains of non-diseased plants, leaves, coffee grounds, etc.) to it. As the added organic matter slowly breaks down, it releases plant-available nutrients (including nitrogen) to the soil. These nutrients then provide food to the plants allowing them to grow and provide harvest.
Keep in mind it takes time for the organic matter to decompose itself and release nutrients to the soil. The bigger the organic material the more time is required for it to break down. In most cases, you need to do it months prior to planting if you want it to work. The exception here would well-aged compost. It works even if you add it just weeks before planting. Definitely use it if you’re in a hurry and can get your hands on it.
The growing spot should also be well-drainning. This helps avoid diseases common in waterlogged areas, such as root rot and damping-off for instance.
Another important thing in growing chard is light. It needs at least three hours of sunlight per day. The more it gets the bigger it can grow. However, planting it in a growing spot which gets shaded in the afternoon, especially during hot and dry summer, is actually helpful. Such location protects the vegetable from heat and drought stress, which oftentimes results in wilting. It is a cool season vegetable after all. You could also take advantage of other, taller plants to create some shade for chard in summer. Simply plant it north or east of beans, peppers, sweet corn, sunflowers or tomatoes for instance.
So, ideally you would want to plant chard in a loose, fertile, well-draining, moisture-retaining and sunny part of the garden, which gets shaded in the afternoon…
It’s also worth noting that chard is susceptible to leaf miner infestation and cercospora leaf spot infection. Try to avoid planting it in spots where it’s close relatives (beetroot and spinach) have previously been growing to avoid these potential disease problems.
I would also avoid growing it near or with potatoes, corn, cucumbers and herbs (except for mint). These plants either steal nutrients from chard or attract harmful pests and diseases. Instead, plant it with or near cabbage, radishes, strawberries, onions, chives, leeks, carrots and mint.
Start sowing it early in spring as soon as the danger of hard freeze has passed…
It’s true, chard can grow in warm and hot weather. It’s also true that both seedlings and mature plants can survive light to moderate frost. However, in order for this leafy green to truly thrive and produce the sweetest and most tender leaves both soil and air need to be cool…
The ideal growing temperature is thus somewhere between 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius) and 70 degrees fahrenheit (21 degrees celsius). Anything below or above that slows down it’s growth and leaf production significantly, and deteriorates the taste of leaves as well.
That’s why I start with my sowings early in spring (usually in the first half of March) as soon as:
- there is no danger of hard freeze,
- the daily temperature reaches at least 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius),
- and the soil is no longer frozen.
It rarely makes any sense to sow it even earlier. First, chard seeds don’t germinate if it’s colder than 50 degrees fahrenheit (10 degrees celsius). Second, the plant can handle light to moderate frost, but almost never survives longer periods of hard freeze. And third, freezing temperatures are stressful for the chard and can force it to flower and set seeds already in it’s first growing season. Once it starts flowering, it’s harvesting season ends because leaves become bitter and inedible.
My planting process is simple:
- I choose a row in my garden and prepare the seedbed on it by loosening the top three inches of soil with my hands.
- Then I take a seed and push it one inch (two centimeters) deep into the soil.
- Next I move two inches (five centimeters) along the row and do the same with the next seed. I keep repeating this until I reach the end of the row.
- The last thing I do is water the planted seeds, but only if there’s no rain in the forecast. Otherwise I let the rain do that for me.
If you plan on having more than one row, you should leave about 10 inches (25 centimeters) of space between the rows. It improves air circulation and thus reduces the chance of plant diseases.
There’s a reason why I’m only putting one seed into each hole. You see, the chard seed is actually a seedball which contains several seeds. If you put more than one seedball into one hole, you have too many seedlings coming out of the ground and the row quickly becomes overcrowded. One seedball per hole is therefore more than enough to get at least one plant out of it.
The seeds usually germinate in one or two weeks. It depends on how warm both air and soil are. If you’d like to speed up the germination, you can:
- Presoak the seeds in room temperature water one night before sowing.
- Protect the row from wind and cold with garden fabrics.
Now, if you use chard primarily for salads (like I do!), then succession planting may be a good idea. Make new sowings every 2 weeks until summer starts and you’ll always have enough young and tender leaves at your disposal.
It’s worth noting that those who live in mild climates may want to grow chard from fall to spring. In such areas, starting in spring is too late because it gets too hot too soon.
Continue with outside sowings towards the end of summer…
I never sow chard during the summer. The seeds don’t germinate due to heat. And even already established plants grow and develop new leaves very slowly. The vegetable is basically just hibernating, struggling to get through the summer heat.
However, towards the end of the summer the weather conditions slowly start to change. The daily temperatures are not sky-high anymore. The days get shorter and shorter. The nights get cooler as well…
In my area, this climate change usually occurs in the second part of August. That’s when I begin sowing chard the second time in the gardening season. Be careful though to not plant it in the same spot as in spring to avoid potential plant diseases and pests.