Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard From Seed & Why You Should

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard in the homemade greenhouse last November.

Looking for Swiss chard recipes? Here are some of my favorites:
What To Do With Swiss Chard—Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip Recipe & Other Ways To Cook & Enjoy My Favorite Leafy Green
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Scallions & Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Cottage Cheese
Swiss Chard and Artichoke Soup

Swiss Chard and Artichoke 'White' Pizza

The year I turned 30, I had two friends who turned 60, and I took full advantage of the situation. "Save me some trouble," I said, "and tell me the most valuable thing you've learned in the last 30 years."

The first one offered up a piece of advice I've tried to abide by ever since. He said, "Be happy, not resentful or envious, when good things happen to other people." But it was seven words of wisdom from the second friend that truly changed my life: "Always plant Swiss chard in the garden."

Variety is good for the garden and the tastebuds, but if I were allowed to grow only one leafy green, it would definitely be Swiss chard. This nutrient-packed chameleon of the vegetable world comes in a variety of colors and is a superb, year-round stand-in for lettuce, spinach and celery. When the spinach is suffering from heatstroke, or the lettuce is keeling over from frostbite, my hardy Swiss chard doesn't even flinch.

Swiss chard, which is also known as white beet, strawberry spinach, seakale beet, leaf beet, Sicilian beet, spinach beet, Chilean beet, Roman kale, perpetual spinach, silverbeet and mangold (and that's just in English!) is bursting with nutrients, including vitamins K, A, C and E, plus several B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron and dietary fiber.

It's a good source of calcium and contains promising cancer-fighting properties. Throughout history, various parts of the plant have been used to treat everything from ulcers to dandruff. But more importantly, it tastes delicious.

The best Swiss chard you'll ever eat is that which you grow yourself, and fortunately it's easy to cultivate. Swiss chard only needs 50-degree soil to germinate, and the plants are quite cold hardy, so in many places it's not too late to start some seeds for a late fall/early winter crop.

The plants are also pleasing to the eye, so you can tuck a few almost anywhere. Swiss chard does exceptionally well in containers, which means even apartment dwellers have no excuse not to try growing some. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches across; three or four plants will fit comfortably in a 14-inch-wide pot.


Young Swiss chard plants in the homemade greenhouse last November.

A packet of Swiss chard seeds will set you back only a dollar or two. I order mine from my two favorite seed companies, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds located here in Missouri and Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine.

Fordhook Giant, introduced in 1924 and pictured in the top photo, is a popular variety with large, dark green leaves and white stems that always does well for me. I grow it along with more unusual varieties, such as the two pictured above, Pink Lipstick and Canary Yellow, whose brilliant yellow stems are stunning.

Last spring I excitedly planted several new (to me) varieties in my garden, including Vulcan, an improved rhubarb chard developed in Switzerland; Sea Foam, said to have great flavor and texture; and Orange Fantasia, which boasts light icy green leaves and bright orange stalks that hold their color when cooked.

Unfortunately my entire crop was destroyed by an army of ravenous blister beetles. Boy were they bad this year. Fortunately I've learned to live by the motto Never plant the entire packet of anything at once, and the remaining seeds I direct seeded last week have already sprouted. The blister beetles are gone for the year, so all I have to worry about this time around is the weather and the deer. At this point I'm quite hopeful.

If space is at a premium or you can't make up your mind what kind of Swiss chard to plant, you might start with Five Color Silverbeet, an Australian variety often sold as Bright Lights or Rainbow Chard. You'll get near-neon shades of pink, yellow, orange, red and white chard from one packet of seeds.

Growing:
Before planting, soak Swiss chard seeds in warm water for 15 minutes to speed up germination. Sow seeds 1/2-inch deep and a few inches apart directly in the garden when the soil is at least 50°F.

Or sow them indoors anytime in standard-sized, 10-inch by 20-inch plastic flats of individual plugs filled with a soilless seed starting or potting mix (place 1 or 2 seeds in each plug) and transplant seedlings into the garden when they're 2 to 3 inches tall.

Thin seedlings so they are 4 to 5 inches apart, or 8 to 10 inches apart if you plan to only harvest the outer leaves.

Plants do best in full sun but will tolerate some shade. They can endure light frosts in spring and moderate freezes in fall (though tiny seedlings are more tender). My Swiss chard has withstood temperatures well below freezing protected by nothing more than a piece of heavy plastic or an old sheet, and it survives in the raised bed greenhouse during our Zone 5 winters, when it sometimes gets down below 0°F.

Maintenance is minimum:
Mulch your plants with compost and/or grass clippings to add nutrients and discourage weeds, and use a natural fertilizer such as kelp or manure tea (a must for container growing). Provide moderate, even watering. (As a rule, properly moist soil will crumble evenly into small granules when you grab a handful and squeeze it.)

Most pests ignore Swiss chard, though more than once the deer have happily munched down my entire crop.


Cut and come again: new growth is already visible.

How To Harvest Swiss Chard:
Another reason I love Swiss chard is because it's a 'cut and come again' plant, which means that one crop can supply you with beautiful bounty for months. Growing your own also allows you to enjoy the tender baby leaves, which can rarely be found for sale.

You can either continually harvest just the outer stalks (scissors work great—start tossing the tender leaves into salads when plants are about 6 inches high) or cut whole young plants off an inch or two above the soil and wait for them to regrow.

Between the plants outside and in the greenhouse, I literally had Swiss chard available for all but three or four weeks of the entire year. Even Whitey The Chicken was enjoying freshly picked greens in January.

Just before a severe cold snap in January, I cut nearly all the leaves from the many large plants in the greenhouse. This huge bounty kept just fine for several weeks in our 40-degree pantry. I covered the remaining chard 'stumps' in the greenhouse with floating row covers, old bed sheets, and lightweight blankets. Bamboo stakes (they have so many uses!) stuck in the ground around the plants helped keep the heavier coverings from flattening them.

When the temperature outside dropped into the single digits, I put an oil-filled radiator heater (we have several—they work great and are very safe) in there on the lowest setting. This kept the plants in a sort of holding pattern.

As soon as things warmed back up a bit, they went right back to growing, and long before spring, I had 22 thriving plants in the greenhouse and almost more chard than I could eat. If you're in a warmer climate, you could easily grow Swiss chard year round outdoors with little or no protection.

So what's your favorite way to enjoy this glorious green? Do tell!

More posts about some of my favorite things to grow:
Favorite Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow—Mine and Yours
Growing Onions in the Garden
Growing Short Day Onion Varieties from Purchased Plants
Harvesting Spring Onions Grown from Purchased Plants
Endive and Escarole in the Kitchen and Garden
Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed
Growing Miniature White Cucumbers from Seed
My Favorite Heirloom Carrots (so far) to Grow from Seed: Parisienne


How to Grow Beets from Seed (and here's my favorite beet recipe)
How To Grow Nero di Toscana Cabbage (also called Dinosaur Kale, Lacinato Kale, Tuscan Kale, Cavalo Nero) and What to do with It
How To Grow Your Own Gourmet Lettuce from Seed (It's easy!)
How To Grow Arugula from Seed in Less than a Month
Tips for Growing & Using Rosemary Year Round

© FarmgirlFare.com, the veggie loving foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and there is almost always homegrown Swiss chard around.

50 comments:

  1. you could make a polenta pie. just sautee the chard with onions, mushrooms, some thyme, and then put it on top of the polenta-crust, and sprinkle gruyere-parmesan on top, put in oven and a couple of minutes later, enjoy!

    more simply, just sautee it with red chili pepper and garlic, add some polenta, with some parmesan or asiago shavings to top it off.

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  2. Ah swiss chard, or silverbeet as we call it here in Australia, a wonderful thing to have in your garden. I love it for breakfast chopped up with a bit of garlic and in with the scrambeled eggs. But, our favorite family way to eat it is as a super quick pasta. Saute garlic, spring onions, bacon until crispy, add as much silverbeet as you like, stir until wilted add a handful of pinenuts and another one of parmesan, a generous lug of olive oil and mix in with pasta. If you don't have any bacon a smoked chicken breast sliced up and added is delish too. Dinner in about 15 minutes and yes the kids love it!

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  3. Steamed, with butter and lemon juice added on the plate. We love it! Up here on the wet ocast it grows year round, in fact I found last year it was better in March after it over-wintered!

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  4. Well, I'm anxious to hear your recipes because I grew Swiss Chard for the first time this year and we all hated it. Ours was very bitter. Not sure what I did wrong, but I'm not willing to give up on it quite yet!

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  5. Quickly saute the stems (high heat, in a pat of sweet butter) and then add the greens with moisture still clinging to them, salt, cover and steam.

    Toss with parmeseam, and spread on a plate as a nest. Plop a perfect poached egg in the middle, top with a drizzle of balsamic and side with toast points.

    Perfect.

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  6. Hi Everybody,
    I'm totally drooling over all of your wonderful Swiss chard recipes! I've already been out in the garden ordering my one inch high seedlings to grow "Faster! Faster! Faster!" : )

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your favorite ways to enjoy Swiss chard. And please keep them coming!

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  7. I'm with you - chard is the best green. It was the first thing I grew, is the easiest thing to get a crop from and eternally reliable. There should be a Chard Appreciation Society!

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  8. Great information about the Swiss chard. Swiss chard is a great garden vegetable to grow. Deer, rabbits groundhogs don't eat it and it is easy to grow. I planted one of the colorful ones but it didn't grow well. The giant fordhook is almost foolproof. I don't even use a knife or scissors, I just snap off a few of the outer leaves whenever I want some.

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  9. My favorite sandwich is something I adapted from a market bistro restaurant near where I work. They call it a French Wrap, and charge $6.95. I replicated it at home for much less!

    Carmelize some sweet onions in your choice of butter, olive oil, or cooking spray. Add chopped swiss chard and saute until wilted.

    Place some brie on your favorite wrap bread (I like flatout) top with the onions and chard, add some pepper if you like, roll up and enjoy!

    Since I am on a weight loss program, I use the light wraps, and trader joe's light brie. I melt the brie first in the micro. You don't have to do that with full fat brie.

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  10. Not to destract everyone from recipes, but here in New England it'll get cold sooner rather than later--I think I might direct-seed some into a pot and see what happens. How tall do they get if grown in containers?

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  11. I use chard in the same recipes that work with broccoli rabe. The one I make most frequently involves cooking the chard in olive oil with a good amount of fresh crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and salt, adding this (if I don't nibble it all straight out of the pan) to pasta and crumbling in chevre.

    Rachael

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  12. Chop it up and wilt it in some olive oil with minced garlic and/or shallots(I use an absurd amount)and chopped walnuts, sprinkle sea salt and fresh ground pepper, stir in some already cooked brown basmati rice or cooked quinoa and move around the pan til all the flavors mingle

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  13. It's nice to see someone writing about Swiss Chard. I grew it for the first time this year ('Bright Lights') and we've only had it sauteed in olive oil with garlic, so far. Thanks for the other ideas.

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  14. I love it sauteed with about five or six fat cloves of garlic for just one bunch. I saute the garlic with a generous amount of olive oil, add the chard, add salt and lemon-pepper, and pour hot tahini sauce over it. (Basically warmed garlic and olive oil with tahini and paprika.) So. Divine.

    I hadn't even thought to put it in a sandwich--great idea!

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  15. Oh, I'd also like to know tips for planting it in an apartment!

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  16. Would you believe that I have never tasted swiss chard? I've seen it in garden catalogs and wondered about it. Do you think it would be too late to plant it here is SW Virginia?

    Linda

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  17. I don't like swiss chard - it's green, it's good for you - so therefore, it doesn't taste good to me!! But Norm loves it and I fix it for him.

    I have a friend in Alaska who loves it and couldn't grow it this year for some reason - I am sending her your page so she can grow it in the house.

    I might try it for Norm.

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  18. In our gardens here in NY, we grow fordhook giant, bright yellow, bright lights and rainbow. The Swiss chard is one of the first things to be sown and then planted, and practically sees us through the lulls of early spring (when we're tired of eating food from storage). We eat it at every meal in any way imaginable: in our scrambled eggs for breakfast, as a pizza topping, in stirfries and soups or as a raw salad.
    With the bounty of summer our chard is often overlooked (and also doesn't handly the mid summer heat so well), but by Autumn time it begins to look healthier and soon resumes its reign over the meal table as all the wonderful vegetables of summer have passed.

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  19. So my mom always grew chard in our garden growing up and, yet, I never saw it set foot on our dining room table. Is it possible she saved it all for herself?

    As such, I don't think I've ever even eaten chard. That sounds like some kind of sin since I'm sure it would grow great in our mild zone 9 temps. Since I just pulled the pumpkin/cantaloupe/marigolds perhaps I'll sow some chard and do some weird science in my kitchen figuring out what all the hubbub is about.

    Looking forward to recipes so that you can tell me what to do.

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  20. i am a frequent lurker, but you are bringing me out of the shadows with your mention of chard. it's so beautiful-especially the bright lights, that i just had to try it a few years ago at the farmers market. we've been growing it [in our limited growing season up here in alaska]and buying it. my favorite way is in lasagna. we make a four cheese filling with gorgonzola, cottage, pecorino romano, and mozzarella cheeses. we saute an onion [with the green tops if we have them] with the chopped chard in a little olive oil and layer it with the cheese and red sauce. we also eat it on english muffins with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce-a chard benedict of sorts.
    sadly, our is most likely done for the season.
    meggan
    http://xanga.com/nutmeggmama

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  21. For anyone with children or suspicious adults who need to be introduced to the joys of chard I can recommend chard and basil fritters.
    http://greatbigvegchallenge.blogspot.com/2007/04/c-is-for-chard-and-basil-fritters.html
    This is the recipe for you if you like - and a picture so you can see what they look like. They are delicious and so easy to make.

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  22. Ahh, a girl after my own heart! my latest post is about Swiss chard. I am a big fan too. Such a reliable cropper over Winter and in the Spring hungry gap.

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  23. My parents grew swiss chard in our garden growing up and I know I liked it as a kid but it's been a long time since I've eaten it much. I loved this post and the best part is all the recipe ideas in the comments!

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  24. This is my first year to grow chard, and it grew absolutely huge. I'm glad to find some new ways to cook it. We've been mostly just frying it for a few minutes with some onion. The kids didn't like it at first, but it's growing on them.

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  25. My swiss chard did nothing this year! You persuaded me to give it another try next year. :)

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  26. Swiss chard counts as the best, or next-to-best (after arugula maybe) beginner veg I can think of. It came up fast, it grew to baby-leaf size in a couple of weeks, and it's been ridiculously forgiving of anything I throw at it as long as I keep the slugs away. My small initial patch has been feeding me for a few meals a week for six weeks or so and the plants aren't even full-size yet. Of course I've had to go and plant more, because it's just so great! My favourite colour so far is Vulcan Red- so pretty I almost can't bear to chop it down for food.

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  27. Weird science is happening in our kitchen tonight as I have Swiss Chard officially on the menu (yes, I am a psycho with a weekly menu posted on the fridge).

    I will tell you how horribly awry or wonderfully it all goes. Either way, I'll attribute it all to you.

    *Fingers crossed for "wonderfully"*

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  28. Every once in a great while, I take a boatload of chard and cook it into a curry with lots of onion, garlic and ginger. Then when I have a nice, wet pool of chard curry in my skillet, I crack eggs into fleeting little holes I make in the curry with a tablespoon (just scooping the chard aside). Then I try to cover up each raw egg with some of the curry. Fifteen minutes of very gentle simmering cooks the eggs. Chard and egg curry! It's lovely over basmati.

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  29. sugarcreekfarm, I've read that greens that are grown in soil that is too fertile may come out bitter. Try using less compost.

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  30. I am a beginner gardener starting up with the community garden club this spring, and I stumbled upon your blog; what an inspiring space!

    I cannot wait to try my hand at swiss chard! Thank you for sharing your tips! I feel comforted to have found such a solid, kind resource!

    I enjoy chard in such a simple, delicious way. I saute leaves & stems in browned butter with fresh garlic, a touch of paprika and a drizzle of lemon. I find the smoky, subtle spice of paprika brings out the depth of chard while the lemon and garlic perfectly brighten the dish. Yummy!

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  31. Enjoying the chance for outdoor BBQ, also the bounty of summer harvest, I put 2 slices bacon and garlic in a cast iron skillet onto the BBQ, sauteed them and added chard from the garden. Within minutes we had a delicious nest for our BBQ tilapia. The tilapia is basically flavorless so with a squeeze of lemon and the bacony/garlicky chard, the plate was transformed into a fresh fish & greens meal right off of the BBQ.

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  32. patricia wells' recipe for swiss chard and parmesan tarte-it's delicious. pastry made with 1c. flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup water.pess dough into a tart tin. Take about 2 lbs chard washed, finely chop, saute until wilted add a few eggs, and one cup parmesan cheese. salt pepper to taste. bake at 400- until golden brown on top. add toasted pignoli nuts,and/or golden raisins for variety

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  33. Great ideas everyone - our chard jungle is still producing and I came here in search of inspiration. One of my favorite ways to use (up) volumes of chard is enchiladas - saute chard with mushrooms, onions and garlic, then make use the mix to fill enchiladas (dip corn tortillas in enchilada sauce - red or green, then roll around chard), top with a little cheese and bake about 1/2 hour at 350.

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  34. I REALLY wanted to plant Swiss Chard for the winter but left it until last and did not plant it. Now I wish I had and wanted your best guess whether I might get lucky.

    I am near Dallas, Texas and although the forecast says it may drop to 32 degrees for 4-5 hours I suspect it won't and then we may stay warm until late November. Our daytime temps have been in the 80s and are likely to stay at least 65-70.

    What do you think? Maybe I could try planting it in the ground or maybe start some indoors and then plant it outside during a warm week?

    Any comments on keeping vegetables going in a place where the weather only rarely drops below 32 at night and usually stays above 50 in the day time all year?

    Any idea how many hours of 28-32 degrees would kill common vegetable plants? What is a "killing frost" when it comes to growing tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, muskmelons, squash, beans, peas, etc.?

    Thanks for any and all tips. I am new to gardening and most the old-time gardeners around here assume there will be a hard freeze so they don't try to grow year round.

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  35. We make quesadillas with cooked mashed sweet potato or winter squash, some oregano, sauteed onion, brie, and chard on whole wheat tortillas. Brush with olive oil and toast in the oven a few minutes on each side. Yum!

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  36. I'm a regular reader of your other website and found this one by you also...I'm in love!! This is the best of your blogs and the garden all wrapped up in one (including your recipes...wow). But I notice the posts are a bit outdated. Do you plan on keeping this blog site up to date?? It looks fantastic and I would love to see you have entries regularly in this one as well! Thank you for sharing your life and wisdome with us all!
    sotojanie@yahoo.com

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  37. I too love Swiss Chard and wrote a profile on it hoping to encourge more gardeners to grow it. http://www.masdudiable.com/A55C37/mdd.nsf/dx/swiss-chard.htm
    I particularly like the French types with the very wide mid-ribs two vegetables in one really. Some great recipe suggestions here thanks for sharing I also posted some recipes which reminds me to write up a few more but there's Chard Sauted with anchovies http://www.masdudiable.com/A55C37/mdd.nsf/dx/Chard-Saut%C3%A9-with-Anchovies.htm
    chard and potato Curry
    http://www.masdudiable.com/A55C37/mdd.nsf/dx/chard-and-potato-curry.htm

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  38. I love Swiss Chard. Sweeter and easier to use in cooking as the leaves are so big.The lovely coloured stems make it an interesting addition to the flower border. My favorite recipe is Chard Pie.
    Make a crumb crust with whole wheat flour and margarine - press into a pie pan. Remove stems from a bunch of Swiss Chard and chop into small pieces.(about 4 cups) Beat 2 eggs with 2 cups cottage cheese (or part Cottage Cheese and part Feta Cheese.) add 1 Tbsp dried or 1/3 Cup chopped fresh basil and mix all together. Pack into the pie shell and bake for about 3/4 hour. Excellent served hot or cold.

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  39. Thanks for the inspiration to grow some Swiss chard! I've just gotten into veggie gardening in the past couple of years. Last year it was such a bummer when it got too hot for lettuce, so I'm looking forward to having leafy greens all summer this year. (And by the way, I love your blog!)

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  40. Just found your blog today. So enjoyable! I recently discovered a pizza recipe that uses chard http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pizza-Bianca-with-Goat-Cheese-and-Greens-106098
    I use the bread machine to make the dough - haven't tried the recipe dough. I add some sauteed sweet pepper don't bother with the pre-boiling of the chard -just sautee after the onions and peppers are done. Also add a splash of Vom Fass orange vinegar and oil. A new favorite!
    Valerie, also living in MO, near St. Louis

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  41. Love swiss chard, grow it in baskets I get from garage sales,or plastic containers,great in a tomato sauce with good italian sausage either hot or sweet and lots of fresh garlic and cheese.

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  42. I always saute lardons of bacon and then add chopped swiss chard to it and saute that as well. It's delicious by itself or over polenta.

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  43. Is Philadelphia in a zone where the chard will winter over? Should I put some of my chard plants in a pot and bring it onto my unheated, but enclosed porch?

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  44. Thank you very much for the tips! i really enjoy reading your lovely blogs :-). Best, lien

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  45. Here is an amazing recipe for Swiss Chard Timbales from Florence Fabricant at the NY Times. I have made it and can attest to it's deliciousness. I made it in small loaf pans rather than timbales or cupcake tins. It would also make a great non-meat (except for the bacon part) burger patty substitute.

    http://www.nytimes.com/recipes/8238/Swiss-Chard-Timbales.html

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  46. Our favourite recipe for Swiss Chard as follows:

    10-15 medium sized stalks of chard
    4-6 beets
    large bunch of Rapini

    wash everything well,
    boil to al dente,
    beets, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick, use the greens as well.
    then boil, again to al dente,
    the Chard stems, add the leaves as the stems take a little longer.
    then do the Rapini the same.

    drain everything very well, you can store all three in the fridge for a week, now for the good part!

    bring a frypan with extra virgin olive oil to medium low heat, add equal portions of the chard, beets and rapini, add a couple cloves of garlic, splash of lemon juice, saute for about 5 minutes, add a dash of sea salt about a minute before done... Enjoy!

    I have never liked beets, but they are great in this medley, a really great sidedish of veggies for your meal.

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  47. I have lots of Bright Lights growing in my allotment...first try at growing this colourful green (that isn't green!)I tried adding it to a stir fry, but it was a bit gritty and my husband, who is very conventional in his eating habits, was very suspicious. Reading all these inspirational ideas has made me want to persevere! If the plants grow flowers does that mean the leaves will taste bitter, and should I cut off the flower stalks, as in rhubarb?

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    Replies
    1. Don't give up on chard! I actually love the small, tender young leaves best in salads. If your plants are sending up flower stalks, that means they're at the point in their life cycle where they're going to seed. You can snip them off, but they will send up more. If you want to save your own seeds, you can let the flowers bloom, then wait for the seeds to turn brown and dry out. Warning - this can take months, and your plants will be big and gangly the whole time.

      I still eat the leaves at the flowering stage, and I haven't noticed them turning bitter. What often happens with big plants is that while they're going to seed, they also send up lots of tiny new young leaves, which, as I mentioned above, are perfect in salads, so while you're waiting (and giving over garden space), you'll still have something to eat. :)

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  48. I agree Chard is a must on any veg patch, This year I'm going for Bright lights with two already sown. I've found bolting can be an issue in dry spells though so will be paying close attention to it this year.

    http://thehilltopgardener.blogspot.co.uk/

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  49. Going to try two varieties of chard for the first time this growing season, Rhubarb Chard and White Lucullus. I'm really looking forward to it, though I'm hoping they won't mind getting started indoors at first. Our garden isn't exactly great for starting stuff outdoors.

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March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

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