Friday, December 3, 2010

Chard Times

Swiss chard was a real discovery for us, particularly given its year round yields, good looks and its sheer versatility as a food. Because of this, we've grown it at on and off in the back garden for the last three years.

Each year we sow the seeds and then we tend to forget about the chard through spring and the during the summer months because the salads are vibrant and all the other crops are firing on all cylinders.

But it's at this time - in darkest winter, that chard comes into its own. If you can prevent it bolting, chard will go right on cropping all the way through until spring and the fresh green leaves and rigid juicy stalks can be picked from the garden on the gloomiest of evenings.

Chard looks not unlike a dock plant crossed with a rhubarb. It’s dead easy to grow and its only problems seem to be caused by the slugs and snails who love the stuff. You sow it outside after the last frost and then pretty much leave to its own devices.

Not rhubarb, but chard
You can eat the leaves fresh as a salad or you can boil them like spinach for use as a veg with your dinner. The stalks are edible and stir fry as well as they stew.

The Bright Lights variety, sometimes known as "Rainbow" gives stalks in yellow, pink green and red and I'm convinced would sell well in the floral section of the garden centre given the display they're capable of.

Chard showing off its brightly coloured stems
They actually look great in a flower bed and if you left a tray of them unlabelled in the floral section of a garden centre, you can bet people would buy them purely for display value. One variety Bright Lights, also known in some quarters as Rainbow, includes yellow, pink green and red in it visual spectrum.

The other advantage of chard is that is grows continuously all year around so if you stagger sowing, you should be able to enjoy this crop all the way through the winter. With nothing but swedes, salsify and celeriac out there for us at the moment, the chard makes great spinach substitute at this time of year. As well as being high in iron like spinach, it's high in vitamins C, E, K and includes carotenes and folic acid. And for those multicoloured stalks in a stir fry in darkest December, there's nothing like some Bright Lights as we come up to Christmas.

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