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All summer long, I kept asking myself, “What’s with this place?” The soil here just wants to grow things. Everything I plant takes off in amazing ways.

Those eight zucchini plants — planted more than a month late? Every time I turned my back, there were piles of zucchini waiting for me the next time I wandered through my garden. I’ve frozen 24 cups of grated zucchini and fed relatives in two states. And, even now, there are another half dozen growing away in late September. Eight zucchini plants are more than enough.

Those strawberries that I transplanted? They’ve all taken root, and I expect great things from them come June. In the meantime, growing in their midst is a plot of spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy and arugula — thrown in as an after thought, an effort to start cleaning out my stash of old seed. Planted about a month ago, all are ready to eat right now. I’m eating as fast as I can, and the relatives are doing their part, but let’s just say our little pet rabbit is dining like royalty as well.

But the real proof that this soil is rich, rich, rich? It’s the sunflowers growing outside my bedroom window. Huge! Leaves like sheets of newspaper and heads the size of serving platters. One stormy night a few weeks ago, the wind was slamming these things against the side of the house and it sounded like bodies hitting the walls in the dark of the night. Very, very creepy.

I'm not exaggerating.  Here's one that fell to the ground yesterday, drying out for the before-mentioned rabbit's winter fare.  (That's a standard-sized dinner plate on the table next to it.)

I’m not exaggerating. Here’s one that fell to the ground yesterday, drying out for the before-mentioned rabbit’s winter fare. (That’s a standard-sized dinner plate on the table next to it.)

With a little investigation, I may have learned this land’s productivity secret. My dad tells me that some time ago one of the tenants kept horses for several years on this side of the house, right where I’ve planted my garden. Years of manure curing in the prairie grass. I can’t wait to see what this ground yields next year.

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One of the best vegetables I have discovered since starting my garden several years ago is Swiss Chard. I had seen it before in the produce section, but usually it looked so battered by the time it reached my supermarket that I had always found its appearance unappetizing.

Well, that problem is solved when it grows right here in my garden. Like other greens, it doesn’t require a ton of root space, and it seems to thrive in a bit of shade with sun early in the day and late in the afternoon and evening. This has made it a good crop for the back part of my garden, in what I call the high shade of a maple tree. The lowest branches of the tree are about twelve feet from the ground, which allows enough light to reach my crop of greens.

I have found that Swiss chard can be used in just about any recipe that calls for spinach. I have an enormous bounty of chard this year, and I’m using it in huge amounts nearly every day wherever I can think of something to add it to. I made a large pot of lentil soup last week and added about 2 quarts of fresh chopped chard to 2-1/2 quarts of vegetable broth with a large onion sautéed in olive oil and a quart of cooked lentils, salt and pepper — delicious, hearty and packed with nutrients. I’ve also added sautéed chard to a wild rice mix with baby peas and pecans, with amazing results.

For me, Swiss chard seems easier to grow than spinach, and evidently it grows well even in the hot months, as long as it is in the high shade that I previously described. In fact, we had a full month of mostly 100 degree temperatures this year — unusual here in northern Indiana — and the chard seems to be thriving when all of the other greens have failed. It doesn’t tend to bolt when spinach or lettuce does. An eight-foot double row planted in the early spring feeds us from mid June until early December, as long as we don’t get a heavy snow-fall or a very hard frost before then.

Swiss chard contains a high amount of flavonoid phytonutrients, including kaempferol and syringic acid. Kaempferol is heart-healthy, and syringic acid appears to help regulate blood sugar. Chard also contains high amounts of vitamins K, A, and C and the minerals magnesium, manganese, potassium and iron. One cup of cooked Swiss chard provides 10 percent of your daily calcium needs as well.

While Swiss chard is similar to spinach and can be substituted into most recipes calling for spinach, it has a somewhat more mild flavor than spinach and, for this reason, may be more appealing to people who find they really don’t like spinach that much. And if you, like me, can’t find good Swiss chard in your supermarket, it’s easy to grow in pots on your porch or balcony. The leaves and stems are colorful and attractive and are a pretty addition to any container garden.

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