Chard adds a splash of colour to a vegetable patch. It comes in many different shades and is characterised by the dramatic stalks and veins of its leaves, including white, orange, green, red, and purple stalked varieties. It is one of my favourite vegetables to grow as the plants take up little space, crop over a long period, and best of all, add their delicious flavour to a wide range of meals like soups, curries, casseroles, risottos, and even salads (when the leaves are picked young). Both the stems and the leaves are eaten. Chard is an excellent choice for a home vegetable garden, or to grow in containers on a patio.
All varieties are grown the same way, and there are two main times to sow. My preferred time is when the soil warms up in spring. The leaves of the thinned young plants are good for salads, and by late June the plants should be mature. There is no need to dig up the whole plant, just pick enough outside leaves from a number of plants for a meal, and the plants will continue to replenish them until autumn.
The second time to plant is after the longest day in summer, with the intention of overwintering the plants for an early spring harvest the following year. Chard dies back in winter, and in cold areas the base of the plants should be protected by a mulch or fleece.
Chard is much easier to grow than spinach (that has a tendency to bolt in dry hot summers). Like other plants where the leaves are eaten, chard needs to be watered regularly – especially so in heat waves – to avoid the roots drying out and toughening the leaves. Space the plants about 30 centimetres apart. Chard is relatively free of diseases, but a net may be required to stop birds eating their way through the crop.