Chard, a close relative of beets, is a large-leafed vegetable with wide, flat stems that kind of look like celery. It is loaded with vitamin A and is naturally high in sodium with one cup containing 313 mg. One cup also contains 35 calories, three grams of protein, seven grams of carbohydrates, 102 mg of calcium, four mg iron, 151 mg magnesium, 58 mg phosphorus, 960 mg potassium, 32 mg vitamin C and 15 mcg of folate. If you like spinach then you will most likely take a liking to chard.
Chard seeds can be sown directly into the garden in early to mid spring ½ to ¾ of an inch deep. It will need at least six hours of sunshine a day. Thin the seedlings four to six inches apart when they are small as crowded crops will compete with each other for light, water and nutrients which will in turn provide a poor yield. To control weeds, apply a nice layer of mulch. This will also help to conserve moisture and cool the soil.
A few of the recommended varieties are Burgundy and Ruby which have a red midrib, Winter King, Perpetual and Geneva which have a white midrib, and Rainbow or Bright Lights which is particularly pretty in my eyes as it sports a mixed, multi-colored midrib. I like to grow Bright Lights just as an ornamental plant in my flowerbed.
Chard can be harvested when the leaves are young and tender or after maturity but the stems will be a bit tougher. Cut the leaves at the base of the plant, being careful not to cut the terminal bud in the center. Discard old leaves that remain on the plant as they will decrease production. Store chard in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper no longer than two to three days. Young, tender chard leaves can be added to salads or sandwiches, giving a beet-like taste. It can also be used in recipes in place of spinach. The stem or rib can be cooked and served like asparagus.
As always, Happy Gardening!