By Francis Moyle, Director
I recently joined the Galiano Seed Library and I am really impressed with the locally viable seed selection available to the public. Once you become a member, you have access to the vast selection of seeds they maintain. One of my favorite and easiest vegetables to propagate is Swiss chard. Last year I grew a large plot of rainbow chard and since it has been grown year after year here on Galiano, the library’s Swiss chard seems to flourish well in our Mediterranean type climate. The Seed Library has two types: Rainbow Chard and Yellow Sunrise. Our inventory is available at seedlibrarygaliano.org/seed-inventory.
Here are some fun facts about Swiss chard. If you haven’t seen Swiss chard before, it has wide, fan like, shiny green, ribbed leaves with petioles (stalks) that range in colour from white to yellow to red. It is a sub species of Beta Vulgaris (beets). It has many common names such as Silver Beet, Strawberry Spinach, beet spinach, Seakale beet or leaf beet. The leaves are highly nutritious, making it quite popular among those with healthy diets. Swiss chard is native to the Mediterranean and is believed to have developed from a form of wild beet thousands of years ago. Aristotle mentions a red stalked chard around 350 BC. Sicily, Italy is considered the origin of Swiss chard. It was introduced to the North American continent by the colonists who considered it another form of beet, grown for its greens. The name “Swiss” was given because of the Swiss botanist, Karl Koch, who classified it in the early 1800’s.
Swiss chard can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw is considered less bitter than cooked. I love steaming it and eating it with butter and salt/pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar. It is an excellent source of Vitamin A, K, C, E and Magnesium, along with Iron, Copper and Calcium. Swiss chard also contains the anti-oxidants, Beta Carotene, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Quercetin Kaempferol, Rutin and Vitexin, which protect your body from free radicals that may lead to certain diseases. Studies have found that consuming a diet high in antioxidants found in Swiss chard can decrease your chances of developing certain chronic diseases. Beta carotene helps reduce lung cancer, Kaempferol is a powerful anti-inflammatory, also found to attack pancreatic cancer cells and reducing their growth in a test tube study. Vitexin helps to reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and blocks the formation of blood clots. If you’re looking for a high fiber food, Swiss chard is a good source of fiber. 1 cup of cooked Swiss chard provides approx. 4 grams of fiber, which feeds beneficial gut bacteria, promotes regular bowel movements, helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar levels. Health organizations recommend 25-30 grams of fiber per day from food.
However, there is one thing to be aware of when eating Swiss chard. It is high in Oxalates, which play a role in the formation of Calcium Oxalate kidney stones. If you are prone to kidney stones, you may want to limit your intake of Swiss chard. To help prevent kidney stones, the average adult should be drinking 3.7 – 4L of water a day, reduce sodium salt intake and increase their calcium intake. There are a few easy ways to add Swiss chard to your diet. Saute it with coconut oil and add it to scrambles eggs or use it in soups or stews. You can add it raw to mixed green salads or add it to your favorite smoothie / veggie juicer. You can rub the leaves in olive oil and salt and bake for snack chips. Use it in place of basil when making homemade pesto or toss wilted leaves into pasta dishes. Try pickling the stems for a crunchy snack. Top a pizza with Swiss chard, mozzarella and tomatoes. Or stuff a chicken breast with Swiss chard and goat cheese. There are a lot of recipes out there using Swiss chard.
In the Gulf Islands, you would want to plant Swiss chard in the spring, 2-4 weeks before the last frost date, but planting now is fine too. It grows well in raised beds, potting containers, and directly in ground gardens. Space Swiss chard 12-18” (30-45cm) apart in nutrient rich, well-drained soil, with PH 6.0-6.8. You can get your growing season off to a great start by adding aged compost and other rich organic matter into your topsoil. You can increase the germination rate by soaking the seeds before planting in a bio-stimulant like Organic Vitazyme or a diluted mix of seaweed and spray on the leaves every 2-3 weeks throughout the growing season. Both contain growth regulators (PGR), or hormones that stimulate cell division and increase the rate of germination, which will get the roots to develop faster and give the plant a head start by reducing stress from environmental affects like fluctuating temperatures and pests. Bio-stimulants also increase the nutrient uptake in the plant creating robust growth. Once you plant the seeds in the soil, water directly after planting. Then water regularly once a week or every 2-3 days in the hottest days of summer. Adding straw, ground up leaves, or compost around the plants will help keep the soil cool during hot summer days.
Although not known for bolting (early flowering), chard can bolt if exposed to frost early in the season followed by soaring temperatures in the heat of summer. To reduce bolting it is recommended to set up a shade cloth over the growing area. If it does bolt, you can cut out the flowering stalk and the plant will keep producing leaves. You can harvest the leaves whenever they get large enough to eat. Young tender leaves are the most flavorful. In areas that do not experience a hard freeze, Swiss chard behaves like a perennial and can live for several years.
Swiss chard is biennial meaning it has a typical two-year life-cycle, which is important to know for seed saving. The first year, grow for food. Leave in the garden for the second year and let it go to seed after flowering. At the end of the season, pick or shake off the seeds before the autumn rains. Keep the seeds in a dry and dark place, then replant the following year.
Also don’t forget to save some seeds for the Seed Library of Galiano. Happy gardening everyone!