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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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