Swiss Chard

Beta vulgaris Cicla


Swiss Chard is an excellent all-rounder, tough, reliable and productive throughout the year, making it an excellent choice for a kitchen garden, and its a must grow in my garden. The leaves can be used like spinach and ribs are a delicious vegetable in their own right. Swiss Chard is called poirée, bette or blette in France and is a very popular vegetable more so than in the UK. I urge anyone, who has not tried this vegetable yet, to give it a go. It is in season now and will be on and off until mid to late spring.

History  The cultivation of chard dates back to classic antiquity. The Greeks and Romans used it widely but it did not become popular in Europe until the middle ages.

Site & Soil  Swiss Chard is tough, tolerant of poor soils, shade, heat and temperatures down to –14c

Germinates 7-10days.   Crops Spring 60days Summer 45days

Propagation
1. Sow in situ in drills 1-3cm deep, in rows 30cm apart. Thin, when the seedlings have 4-5 leaves, to 22cm apart
2. Sow undercover in cells and transplant after 4-6weeks
3. Sow 3-4 seeds in stations 20-25cm apart in rows 45cm apart
4. Broadcast sow in 10cm wide drills and treat as a CCA.

Tip Soak seeds for 24hrs before sowing to break down the hard seed shell.

Timing
Chard will produce all year from a single sowing, it can be succession sown through the year or my preference is to make 2 sowings per year one in late winter/early spring and one in late summer/early autumn.
Sow
(Feb) March-June
August-Sept (Oct)
Harvest
(May) June – Nov
Dec – April

Care Best grown in temperatures between 10-25c in well-manured soil. Water well in dry weather, mulch with compost or other organic material to conserve moisture in summer.

Harvest by cutting outer leaves just above ground level from several plants rather than completely stripping one. Continual cutting of outer leaves through the season ensures the production of new young tender leaves. Chard can be harvested at the baby leaf stage for use in salad or as a cooked vegetable either use the thinnings or treat as a cut and come again by cutting the small plants down to just above the soil surface.

Companion
Swiss chard is said to grow well with carrots, cabbage, beans, radish and turnip/swede. I find it grows particularly well next to aubergines.

Nutrition
Swiss Chard is rich in Iron and Vitamin A as well as a useful amounts of Vitamin B & C.

Varieties

Verte a Carde Blanche Classic French variety with thick white succulent midribs and tasty dark green leaves. Really delicious and my favourite.
Bright Lights A swiss chard with a mix bright colourful stems and a mild, sweet flavour. It will overwinter to provide leaves during milder weather in winter and into spring.
Lucullus A swiss chard with thinner 2-3cm wide pale green to white ribs and light green crinkle edged leaves.
Zilver thick ribbed white ribs and green leaves i found it disappointing (i grew an organic variety from unwins).
Perpetual Spinach A long-standing easy to grow spinach like green, it is actually a slim stalked, smooth leaf swiss chard or leaf beet. It is quite hardy and prolific supplying a “perpetual” harvest of leaves throughout the year. It is much slower to bolt during the hot weather and long days of summer than true spinach. Maturity from fifty days onward.

MDD Growing Log
2004 Bright Lights. Excellent set out early May, produced all year and into following spring.
2005 Bright Lights Sown September direct harvest from April onwards. Lucullus Set out in spring from a late sowing indoors, crop affected by bugs but late summer crop recovered and harvestable autumn. NB ribs are thin on thin on Lucullus and not such a good taste.
2006 Bright Lights Sown September in cells, set out March produced all year. Verte a Carde Blanche March sowing in cells set out May produced all year.
2007 Zilver sown Feb in cells harvest through season and Verte a Carde Blanches own seed sown May produced late season and into following spring.
2008 Perpetual Spinach sown spring produced all year though some frost damage in winter. Crop from previous year in spring. Did not like it as much as thick ribbed chard. My favourite variety of Swiss Chard so far is Verte a Carde Blanche pictured above in April 2008 having grown all through winter producing and early crop in spring when little else is available to eat.
2009 Verte a Carde Blanche cropped right through till following April from a single spring sowing
2010 Verte a Carde Blanche cropped right through till following April from a single spring sowing
2011 Verte a Carde Blanche I won’t be growing any other variety from now on.

Tetragon (New Zealand Spinach)

Tetragoniaceae: Tetragonia tetragonioides

Formerly classified as Aizoaceae (ice plant)

Half-Hardy self-seeding perennial leafy plant

Also known as New Zealand Spinach although it has no botanical relation to Spinach. Tetragon is a half-hardy perennial originating in temperate, subtropical and coastal regions of the Southern Hemisphere. It is a quick growing leafy vegetable with succulent like leaves and a low spreading habit, often over several feet, which can be left to spread or can apparently be trained to grow over trellising though I have not tried that myself. I prefer to grow it as an edible ground cover crop and I think it is a good choice for forest and perennial gardeners. A useful edible in warm climates as it can stand heat and draught without bolting.

History An heirloom leafy vegetable that was a popular among the Maori people of New Zealand and first brought to Europe by Joseph Banks in 1771 on his return aboard the Endeavour with Captain Cook.

Site & Soil  Prefers a sunny site sheltered from frost with well-drained, sandy soil rich in organic matter and a PH range of 6.8-7. It is a resilient crop tolerant of very poor soils, high temperatures and maritime exposures but not of frost. Add well-rotted compost to the top 15cm of the soil before sowing.

Propagation Sow 1-2cm deep in fine soil and keep moist until seedlings emerge.

1.        Sow directly in mid-late spring after the last frost.

2.        Sow undercover and set out when 5cm high when all danger of frost has past.

Tip Germination can be slow; soaking the seeds for 24hrs before sowing will help break down the hard outer coating of the seed.

Care Tetragon needs very little care. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushy growth. Hoe to keep weeds down during seedling stage after that the foliage will act as a ground cover and suppress weeds. Water in very dry weather.

Pests & Diseases Tetragon is relatively pest free; slugs and snails don’t even seem to bother it.

Harvest Regular picking promotes new growth and plants can be cut down near to ground level and still re-grow.

Spread  120cm

Storage Will store for several days wrapped in paper in a salad drawer.

Botany and Seed Saving Seeds are very easy to collect. Flowers are produced at leaf axis along the growing stem leaving green buds with small spikes once these buds start to turn brown they are ready to harvest. Finish drying the seeds and store in a paper bags in cool temperatures. Be careful to harvest all the seeds before they drop, unless you want to start a self-seeding bed, as Tetragon is very good at propagating itself.

Use The tips and young leaves are used in place of spinach or other leafy greens. A particularly useful crop in hot dry areas or in summer when few other delicate greens will grow.

Nutrition Tetragon is high in Vitamins A, B1, B2 and C. In France Tetragon is used to make a quiche like tart with the boiled greens mashed up with egg, nutmeg and Crème fraîche and baked in a pastry shell. It is also steamed or boiled and drizzled with olive oil.

Varieties I have so far not come accross any named varieties

Amaranth

Amaranth was one of the highlights of my garden last summer and it is time to start sowing it again so this is a timely heads up to anyone who hasn’t grown Amaranth before to give it a try. This plant has everything going for it, it is easy to propagate, doesn’t much care where you put it, produces an abundance of fresh leaves to eat in summer and delicious nutty grains in autumn, it tastes great and is versatile in the kitchen and if that wasn’t enough it is one of the best looking plants you can grow in an edible garden. I got my seeds a few years back from Bob Bester in Tazmania and although there are many varieties of Amaranth I think this one is Amaranthus caudatus.

Amaranth growing in late July

A tender annual of the Amaranthaceae family, Amaranth is grown for its protein rich leaves as well as it nutritious grains. The name Amaranthus is said to come from the ancient Greek meaning ‘life-everlasting’ which probably refers to its habit of self-seeding. It is also known as Indian, African or Chinese spinach or sometimes as calaloo.

Plant History Its origins appear to be widespread; it is known to have been grown in Asia since the beginning of recorded history, there are species native to Africa and it was a fundamental food and cultural crop of the South Americas. Amaranth is an ancient crop that, along with beans and corn, was famously one of the main foods of the Aztecs. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the collapse of Indian cultures Amaranth survived only in small pockets of cultivation in scattered mountain areas. Today grain amaranth is a forgotten crop, while corn and beans became two of the leading crops that feed the world, amaranth faded into obscurity despite its potential as a global food source. Amaranth is still grown and eaten as a vegetable green in over 50 tropical countries and is a vital crop in some of the harshest growing conditions in the world.

Amaranth in autumn the grains are inside the millions of tiny pink flowers

Site and Soil Tolerates heat and drought as well as some shade. Grows vigorously and adapts well to various sites.

Propagation Very quick to crop the first young leaves can be picked in as little as 3 weeks. Sow Spring (April-May) a second crop can sown again in late summer in warm areas. Sow in trays and plant out after last frost or sow direct. Cover seeds only lightly or not at all. Germination aprox. 8-10 days at 21-24c (70-75F)

Care it seems to take care of itself and is a really easy plant to grow. It would make a good choice for low maintenance, permaculture or forest gardens as well as a kitchen garden or even flower garden.

Harvest young leaves in summer and grains in the autumn.

Storage use leaves freshly picked or blanch and freeze to store. The dry grains will store for several years.

Botany and Seed Saving [1]A pioneer species, whose niche in nature is the quick colonisation of disturbed land. Plants  produce a huge number of fast germinating seeds and use the C4 photosynthetic mechanism, common in arid-land species, which enables them to thrive in hot, dry weather.

Use Amaranth leaves are used as a ‘potherb’ boiled and eaten as vegetable greens. The stems and leaves cook quickly and become soft with a mild flavour and no trace of bitterness or squeekiness. The leaves and stems make wonderful stir-fries and, to my taste, a far superior cooking green to spinach, particularly when cooked oriental style. The grains can apparently be used in breads, breakfast cereals or as an ingredient in confections but I’ve been experimenting with them in the kitchen making the most wonderful savory seedy biscuits to eat with cheese.

Nutrition [2] Amaranth produces a gluten free high protein grain and the leaves are high in calcium and iron and vitamins C and A making it a valuable source of food.

Bibliog and further reading

[1] Lost Crops of Africa: Amaranth

[2] Amaranth Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop


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