Chard is basically a beet without the bottom. It's a biennial that is grown as an annual for its big crinkly leaves. The stalks are red or white with large, dark green leaves that can be used as salad leaves when small or cooked like spinach when allowed to grow medium to large leaves.Chard is a leafy vegetable that favours colder weather. It isn't difficult to grow, but does require some maintenance as trimming the leaves frequently helps improve chard's flavor.
Site and Soil
Chard needs a rich moisture retentive free draining soil. Avoid applying fresh manure, rotted compost added in Spring will be very beneficial. Will tolerate some shade in Summer.
Sow in shallow drills 2.5 cm deep, 30cm apart in rows 35 cm apart. Cover seeds with a fine layer of compost and water.
Cut and come again Salad Leaves
Broadcast sow in shallow, broad drills 2.5 cm deep approx 7 cm apart. Cover seeds with a fine layer of compost and water.
Sow 1 seed per cell in modular trays. Chard seeds are actually small clusters of seed which will produce from 3 to 5 little plants. You will need to thin out the weaker plants when they germinate and leave only one. Plant out 3 weeks later.
Sowing in Modular Trays
Use a seed compost which has a finer texture and lower nutrients than your standard multipurpose compost. We use a seed module tray with each section being approx 2 inches deep. Here's what you do:
Fill the seed tray with compost and brush off any excess. When filling the tray rub the compost through your hands to break up any lumps. Give the tray a sharp bang on your table to settle. With your fingers make small depressions in each cell about a fingernail or 2.5cm deep.
Sow 1 seed per module which will produce 3-5 little plants. Chard is easy to sow as the seeds are quite big but if you find it difficult here's a handy tip: Crease a sheet of stiff paper and place the seeds in it, give it a few taps and they will all naturally line up in the fold. You can then push the seeds off the end with a pencil as you need them as shown in the photo.
Cover the seeds with another layer of compost then scrape across the top of the tray with a stick to remove excess.
Gently water your seeds. A good tip is to use a plastic bottle with small holes punched in the cap. This is less likely to wash the seed around than the heavy spray from a watering can. Place your trays in your greenhouse, polytunnel, cold frame or windowsill to germinate. They should be ready to plant out in about 4 weeks.
Sowing in Drills
Sow chard seeds in a drill or mini trench about 2.5cm deep. The seeds should be 30cm apart with 30cm between rows. Cover the seeds with a fine layer of soil or compost and water in.
Chard seeds are actually small clusters of seeds which will produce more than one plant. If you are starting seedlings in modular trays you need to thin the seedlings to one plant per cell or they will become over crowded.
To thin remove the weaker seedling to leave the strongest one in the cluster. Don’t pull up the seedlings you wish to discard, nip with your fingernail or a pair of scissors to avoid damaging neighbouring roots.
Hardening off means getting your plants used to more hostile outdoor conditions. Leave the plants outdoors on mild days, progressing to every day and finally all night. A cloche cover or Cold Frame is perfect for this practice. More information link (Hardening off seedlings).
Planting Out Seedlings
If you are growing your chard in modular trays now is the time to plant them out. Plant in a fertile well drained soil at the spacing recommended below.
Make a planting hole the approximate size of the seedling plug with a trowel or dibber. Push the soil in around the seedling to form a good seal while avoiding pushing downwards and compacting soil.
30 cm between plants, 35 cm between rows.
Use an oscillating hoe to weed between the beet plants to reduce competition, improve air circulation and increase microbial life in your soil.
Remove any yellowing leaves at the base of the plant which will rot and can promote disease if not picked.
Weeding and watering
Keep your chard plants weed free and well watered if the weather is dry. It is also a good idea to remove the lower leaves which will turn brown and rot.
Simply twist the leaves away from the base of the plant taking care not to damage the stem or disturb the roots. Pick regularly to ensure tasty young leaves, don't wait for the leaves to reach full size as they tend to have a bitter taste.
If the plants start to produce tall central shoots or 'bolt' cut off any flower heads as they appear.
If you cover chard with straw or leaves as an insulating layer it will continue to produce new leaves the following spring.