By: Justin Butts
Swiss chard is not from Switzerland. In fact, it’s native to Sicily, where it was bred from wild sea kale that grew along the coast. A Swiss botanist gave chard its botanical name, so it became “Swiss.” Unlike most other cool-weather greens, chard grows well into the Coastal Bend summer—most winter plants bolt and go to seed at the first sign of heat, but chard keeps right on producing its gorgeous green leaves.
Because chard adapts well from winter to spring, you can plant your tomato transplants directly into a mature bed of chard. The lush leaves of the chard will protect the delicate young tomatoes, and when the tomatoes grow into vigorous vines, they will shade the tender chard from the summer sun.
The best varieties of chard for Coastal Bend gardens are Five Color Silverbeet, Rainbow, Fordhook Giant, Vulcan, and Bright Lights.
It’s best to plant chard by transplant, but if planting by seed, overseed a wide bed and continually thin to final spacing. Eat these thinnings; they are delicious! Add native leaf mulch as the plants grow larger to prevent weeds and maintain cool soil temperature.
Spacing, 12”. Height, 18” to 24”. Full sun; likes evening shade during spring and early summer. Well-drained soil with plenty of organic compost and pastured poultry manure. Plant by transplant any time in December. Water until established and then as needed—more in the spring. Compost with native leaf mulch to prevent weeds and keep soil cool. Increase leaf mulch as weather gets hotter.
Once plants are established (in about 55 to 65 days), take cuttings from each plant. Cut the stem near ground level. Never take more than 1/3 of the leaves of each plant at a time—they will quickly regrow new leaves. New leaves will continue to regrow at an increasing rate as the spring weather warms and the days grow longer. The stems come in a wide variety of colors, from red to gold to green, depending on the variety. The healthier the soil, the more vibrant the colors of the stems and ribs along the leaves.
Swiss Chard is a seasonal staple in my repertoire. My favorite way to prepare it is to sauté the stems first in olive oil, along with shallots, bacon, and garlic. Once the stems are tender, deglaze with white wine. Next, add in the reserved leaves, golden raisins, and stock of your choice. Cook until the leaves are tender and finish with a splash of white balsamic. Season with salt and pepper. – Harold Ramos, Executive Chef, Corpus Christi Country Club @cccountryclub
Chard is susceptible to aphids and flea beetles, especially as the weather heats up. To repel these pests, companion plant with cilantro and dill, and let these herbs go to flower near your chard. The intense aromas of these herbs repel pests while attracting bees and beneficial predators, such as ladybugs and lacewings. Give your chard a boost by spraying them with “Garrett Juice,” which is a mixture of liquid seaweed, molasses, and fish emulsion that strengthens and invigorates plants by activating their natural defenses.