Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Growing Cool Weather Fall Vegetables:
How to Harvest & Store Swiss Chard

Before Harvesting: Swiss Chard in the Greenhouse on 12/20/08

After Harvesting: By 1/4/09 the Plants are Already Growing Back

Never pull up a Swiss chard plant if you can help it! This easy to grow wonder green, for which I've become a rather loud champion, should not only be in every garden, but it should also always be there. Blistering heat, freezing cold, wet winter weather, dry summer days—delicious, nutrient-packed Swiss chard puts up with it all and just keeps putting out. Enjoy the young leaves in salads, or use the larger ones in place of spinach in nearly any recipe. The stalks make a delicious and colorful celery substitute.

In addition, Swiss chard is a cut-and-come-again vegetable, which means that one crop can literally supply you with bounty for months. Let some or all of your plants go to seed, and you'll be able to either start a new crop somewhere else or designate a permananent Swiss chard bed where the plants will keep re-seeding on their own. The plants above were direct seeded in early spring of 2008 and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Other Side of the Greenhouse Before Harvesting on 12/20/08

And Making a Comeback on 1/4/09

The Swiss chard plants in the two photos above are all volunteers that popped up last spring in the unheated and uncooled greenhouse, supplying me with fresh bounty through the summer despite it being a sweltering 120+ degrees on sunny days, and then into the fall as the thermometer dipped down into the teens. I draped floating row covers and old bedsheets over the plants on cold nights, which offer good protection for the plants but at the same time subjects them to being flattened by Sylvester the cat who likes to sneak into the greenhouse and curl up on them. We have 240 acres full of all sorts of cozy nooks and crannies and yet he insists on flattening my arugula (which is another easy-to-grow green no garden should be without). Good thing he's so cute.

The evening of the winter solstice found me frantically snipping back all of the Swiss chard plants in the greenhouse preparation of that night's forecast of 4 degrees with even colder temperatures the next night. To harvest, I simply grabbed the stems of each plant in my left hand and cut them off a few inches from the base with an inexpensive, large pair of scissors.

This is the same way I pick lettuce (which is also easy to grow) because not only does it leave the plants in the ground, allowing them to grow back, but it's also a lot less messy because you aren't pulling up any dirt. So even if I'm planning to clear out a bed, I still harvest this way and then later go back and rip out the cut bases of plants.

Swiss Chard Goes Beyond Green

I covered the trimmed plants in the greenhouse with sheets and blankets, put an electric space heater in there for the next two nights, and hoped for the best. All I have to do is keep the plants alive for the next month or so, and in February they'll take off and start providing me with baby leaves for salads long before anything else in the garden (except arugula, if I can keep Sylvester away from it) is even remotely ready to harvest.

This Little Sprout of Hope Might Grow Back Into a Monster

Worst comes to worst, the plants freeze to death and all I'm out is the time it took me to cover and uncover them each night. But as you can see, things are already looking quite hopeful. And they'll be looking a lot prettier if ever get around to cleaning up all the dead leaves in the bed. But don't hold your breath. This is when you tell yourself you're not being lazy, you're smothering potential weeds and amending the soil.

Warm Up with a Bowl of Swiss Chard Artichoke Soup

As for the several pounds of bounty I picked on the last day of fall, some of it went straight into a batch of this healthy and flavorful Swiss Chard & Artichoke Soup, which was inspired by my Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip. The rest was put into plastic bags that I placed in a cooler on the covered porch off the kitchen because there wasn't room for them in the fridge. It's been over two weeks, and what's left is still looking fine. Freshly picked greens will last quite a while if kept cool and moist.

So if you haven't already, why not give Swiss chard a try in the garden this year? Even if you don't have a greenhouse, unless you live in the arctic you can probably keep a healthy crop alive for most, if not all, of the year.

Related posts:
How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard From Seed & Why You Should
Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip (and what else to do with Swiss chard)
Swiss Chard & Artichoke Soup
Healthy Swiss Chard Tuna Salad with Scallions & Kalamata Olives
Swiss Chard Cabbage Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Cottage Cheese

Is there anything growing in your garden right now?

© Copyright 2009, the foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acre—and we're determined to make Swiss chard lovers (and growers!) out of as many people on the planet as we can.


  1. I love the red color of the stalks. Does it taste like celery or is it just as crisp?

  2. Oh, I'm with you. I grow chard and kale. No matter what other plants fail me, those keep me going.

  3. We bought our dream home in the country in April and found chard growing everywhere...the white-stalked kind in the raised veggie garden beds, and the rainbow kind everywhere else. And I do mean's a weed in our flower bed. It is good, though, and what we didn't eat we broke leaves from for our cows' snacks!

    I would prefer dedicated chard beds, though, rather than having it compete with my dahlias!

  4. I can no longer read or hear anything about chard without thinking of Finny and her battle with the chard this summer. I don't think you've made a chard lover of her. But I love it, and we need to plant more of it next year. Wait--I mean THIS year. Yikes.

  5. Love your blogs and photos and recipes! I became a fan of chard last year. It grows like mad in my garden, at least before the deer made a chard-attack! I plan to grow lots this year and to try a hoop house cover next winter. We have Kale going strong uncovered in garden now, though I'm one zone below you I think (In Fayetteville, AR) Keep up the great work!

  6. It's nice to have a garden at your home where you can grow useful plants:-)

  7. Great blog. I just discovered you yesterday, and have not just been reading... My 8 year old and I planted a bed of lettuce today, and I just picked a green garlic to make some salad dressing with. I have grown chard, but don't get out there to cut it young. You've inspired me. Thank you.

  8. I just love growing Swiss Chard. It just comes back so well in the Spring. Completely hardy right through Winter and I love eating it too. A must-have on my plot.

  9. A lovely blog. I have just sown my tomato seeds for an early harvest this year. Cant wait to get back out in the garden full time.

  10. This is a great blog! I just moved from a city apartment into a rural area and am contemplating my first ever garden. I would just love to grow chard, greens and other things. We are near the Missouri River/temperate climate.

    I was told we have moles in our backyard. Any advice to get rid of them?

  11. Wonderful blog. I laugh now to remember that years ago we only ate the small leaves and fed the rest to the rabbits. The big leaves were too bitter, we didn't know to blanch them in salt water till one day we were up in a hot air balloon of all places! We were up in the clouds talking to the other passenger a famous cook book writer. Ever since then we love ALL parts of swiss chard!

  12. I really enjoy your blog, and I do love my chard.
    Last year the goats got loose and ate most of it...along with almost everything else in the garden.
    That's always frustrating, but the chard cooperated and soon gave me the opportunity to harvest a whole bunch of new baby leaves!


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.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!