Incredibly useful in the winter veg patch, when its wonderful colours are most welcome, chard is incredibly good for you and is cooked like spinach. It is also incredibly easy to grow, withstanding all sorts of neglect. It is in effect two vegetables to one – you can enjoy the leaves and the coloured stems. It is an ideal vegetable for kids to try growing.
There are basically two options here. If you’re after large plants, then you should sow in module trays for later transplanting. Sow one seed per module. If you are after small ‘cut and come again’ leaves for salads, you can sow direct in the soil by making a wide drill about 2.5cm deep and sprinkling seeds in it. Leave 30cm between drills. Chard can also be grown in containers. Sow seeds from March onwards. Do a late summer sowing for winter harvesting.
Incorporate plenty of well rotted compost or manure to the soil the previous autumn. When you plant out the seedlings, allow 45cm between plants. If plants bolt in summer, simply cut them back and they will soon start to produce tasty leaves again. Weed regularly and water in dry weather. Cover in winter with cloches or fleece to keep the worst of the weather off them.
Pick often to encourage the plant to produce tender new leaves. For salad leaves, cut individual leaves as required when about 5cm long. On larger plants, start harvesting leaves from the outside and work your way in to the centre. Whenever harvesting leaves, always leave about 5cm of the stem so the plant can grow back. It will come again several times. Cook the stalks and leaves seperately – the stalks take slightly longer to cook.
Chard is relatively immune to pests and diseases. Downey mildew can sometimes be an issue with densely sown ‘cut and come again’ chard.