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Swiss Chard -- not as neutral as you'd think

Nov 24, 2010

I grew up in a family rabid about Ohio State Football. I never quite understood how this logically translated into a vegetable eating exhortation, "Julie, eat your spinach like Popeye, so that you can grow up to play football for Woody Hays," but it was one I often heard. My parents would have been better served to have chosen Swiss Chard as the vegetable they associated with Ohio State Football as it actually comes in red.

I live in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and Spinach does not do well here -- too much heat and too much rain. Swiss Chard, however, loves the climate. Also known as Spinach Beet (It's actually a relative of the beet family.) this grew all spring and through the summer for me, although I did find evidence of insect damage at the height of summer.

I direct seeded the beds with seed from one of my favorite sources. I prepped the bed with the usual mixture of compost and some additional fertilizer, covered the seeds with about 1/2 to 1 inch of soil, and watered it in. They sprouted in about two weeks -- a long time during which time I was certain the ants had enjoyed quite the picnic at my experience. Once they were up, I followed safe advice to thin the seedlings to six inches, using the thinned plants as garnishes in salads.

I harvested leaves as they got large enough to look good to eat. For me this meant anywhere from six inches tall to ten. The more I harvested, the more leaves appeared. I harvest from the outside in to allow the fresh leaves room to grow.

Nutritional Info: Leaves and stalks come loaded with vitamin A, C, and contain Vitamin B, Calcium, Iron, and Phosphorus. Does not contain the Oxilic Acid present in Spinach that blocks absorption of Calcium! Weight watching junkies like me will appreciate that they are very low in calories, while being high in fiber.

My favorite way to cook them is to stir-fry both the stems and the leaves together with some garlic in a little olive oil. Mmmmm!

Happy Gardening!


Julie Wray Herman

Photo credit: wokka


In our area (RSA) Swiss Chard cooked in various ways (mostly with onions), is very popular amongst some population groups, and along with boiled mealie meal (corn meal) forms a large part of the staple diet. If Swiss Chard is not available, an indigenous leafy plant (Marogo) with similar taste is used. In early summer we often see women picking the young leaves of Marogo in open spaces for cooking. The coloured varieties of Swiss Chard (called "Bright Lights") are not very popular, and the common green variety is mostly planted. Swiss Chard is a wonderful source of greens, and very popular in vegetable gardens. It is problem-free most of the time, and will tolerate heat better than lettuce. I plant my Swiss Chard under a 40% shadecloth for that reason, and in the heat of summer I try to find an area with afternoon shade for them. Under those conditions we have Swiss Chard throughout the year, although growth slows down significantly in the middle of winter (June/July). Yes, Joel, I also have problems with lettuce in the warm summer months (our temp. about 27 to 33 Celsius then). I have never tried SC as a sub. for lettuce, but it could work. Some varieties of lettuce can take the heat of summer, but never tastes the same as a nice crisp head of lettuce grown during the cooler months. I understand that some people dry Swiss Chard to store for later use, and that is on my "to do" list this season. I would be very interested to hear how SC is cooked/used/stored in other countries as this is such an important plant that can (and should) be put to more use to provide vitamins, minerals etc. to a growing population of needy people.
"I understand that some people dry Swiss Chard to store for later use, and that is on my "to do" list this season." Faan, I have this same ambition - for production-volume drying of greens to help round out a year-round garden diet in our zone 4 climate. I wonder how ambitious your drying plans might be & also what kind of humidity level you have near Johannesberg, SA? We have very dry air - I can find the specs - & everything I have previously tried has dried easily. Such as king-size sheets of mint or comphrey spread on the LR floor for a few days. As you may have noticed, Joel started a Group for garden construction projects. I have an idea for an inexpensive, large, built, durable, very practical air-drier for greens. It would make a good project to document in the Garden Construction group. I also have the design assistance of my son, who has excellent design/ build capabilities. :-) I know the dryer-concept will work well in our dry climate, but I wonder what air-drying experience people have had in more humid climates. Joel is in a more humid climate. Maybe we all could collaborate on the design & range-of -humidity for air-drying effectiveness. I noted that whereas our regional seed expert recommends keeping seeds in paper to avoid molding, Glenn posted about putting seeds in a tight tin with a packet of anti-humidity drying-gel. That makes perfect sense in England, where it is more humid.
Jessica - I would love to share plans and thoughts about equipment on Joel's group on gardening construction. Your idea sounds great, although a bit bigger than what I had in mind. We generally have very dry weather in winter (when I do not have a lot of stuff to dry) and more humidity in summer (when I want to dry stuff). But it can be done if you get the timing right between the rainstorms moving in. I have found the first day or two of the drying process critical for success. Let's move to the other group and see what we can come up with.
Faan - I've asked Joel how to enter a new Topic in the Garden Construction Group, rather than just a new comment. And today I will see the office that has the scanner that will let me scan sketches of the dryer I currently envision for collaboration-critique - sounds like the domino-effect in an Aesop's Fable. :-) When I have the above I will > 1. open a Greens Drying Topic in the GCG; 2. write a brief blog post re collaborating on greens-drying re dryer-design & requesting experiences of drying in different humidity climates. This blog post will appear on the KGI first page & alert gardeners to the GD-Topic; & 3. post the link to the GD-Topic in GCG in the blog post so people can go straight to the page. Back soon! :-)
Jessica - You see what can happen when the magic of WWW communication is put to work to solve problems ! While I'm sleeping, somebody else is keeping the ball rolling. With an action-oriented team and ten more people like yourself we could solve all the world's problems in two weeks :-) but lets start with drying. In SA our season is now in full swing, and an abundance of fruit and veggies to process. Let's do it!
MEN: Mother Earth News. Years ago, before Al created the Internet, Mother Eath News was in North Carolina. They had a solar water heater, made from 1X4 wooden boards with a back on it of ply wood> You fixed tubing to the ply wood then painted every thing BLACK to contuct heat & put a clear top on it (lexan). the sun would haet the water as it flowed though the tubing. Leave off the paint & tubing and you had a very big solar dryer. I did not give a wide or length. You can make it any size, but 24" X48" (61mm X122mm) is a good size. To start a topic in a group look on the right side of the page in green for "Create a topic" All the groups I started are "open groups" anyone can join,post & create topics. The more the merrier. Laugh & have fun, Joel.
Please transfer this post to the new group when it is formed. I've used a simple frame with non-galvanized screen wire for the bottom and screen or cloth for a cover to keep insects and bird droppings off the produce. We're mostly hot and dry in my area. Since I'm a small kitchen gardener a mechanical dehydrator is usually what I use. Never dried Swiss Chard but think I'll try in 2011. This site is loaded with information about drying crops and structures for drying:
Yes, I will transfer all info-to-date & soon! Thanks for this excellent link David! And Joel, your input about the MEN water-heating box with black paint could result in a drying box with a sun-heated black-side, while the drying greens are shaded. This source of natural, free extra heat could be key in more humid climates. And as Faan says, he's found that the first few days of greens-drying are critical for success - when you have some plus humidity factor.
And I was able to copy the html link you provided into Word to have a markup copy.
It didn't work for me either this time, so I searched "drying produce" on the web, then scrolled down to: [PDF] of high quality, less perishable food products. Drying is the ... Adobe PDF - View as html CHAPTER 13: PRODUCE DRYING Page 13.1 PRODUCE DRYING Dehydration or drying offruits and vegetables can be accomplished with little capital and produces plenty of high quality ... This brought up Chapter 13 Produce drying a 20 page wealth of information. Hope this will help others. I feel it helped me and I'm eagerly awaiting the additions to the revitalized group. Stay natural' David
Thanks for the link David. I have also used frames, but with plastic "grid" material for the bottom. Easy to clean and rust-proof. I spread my frames on one half of a piece of corrugated iron (as in roofing material). The half with the frames on in shade, the other (empty) half of the corrugated sheet in full sun to gather heat. This heats up the part under the trays resulting in airflow and faster drying times. Simple but very effective.
for singing the praises of swiss chard. I, too, think it's one of the most underappreciated vegetables out there if you consider how much it produces with so few problems. Thanks, also, for being part of KGI.
I have been told that Swiss Chard works well as a lettuce sub. on summer sandwhich. I have a problem growing lettuce in the 95-105 F(35c-40c) in South Carolina summers. Am I to understand that Swiss Chard will stand up to the summer heat better than many other greens? Do you use comfrey for a booster in your compost?
I grow swiss chard every year, it's one of my favorite greens. I plant it about March 15th and it usually lasts until July here in upstate South Carolina. Yes it holds up to the heat longer than lettuce. I usually plant basic green with white stalks like Fordhook, but this year I'm planting Orange Fantasia from Pinetree seeds in Maine. green leafage and bright orange stalks, my wife will love it.
How about bell peppers, I dried some & they got white powder(mold?) on some, but not all of them. I would like to know if anyone has had this problem & if I have to thow all of the pepper in the compost pile.
Joel - I have not dried bellpeppers, but I had the same problem with a batch of chillies I dried. I'm sure it must be mold, and in my case due to wet weather moving in before completely dry. Best to throw away the mouldy ones and start over. Try cutting it thinner, or in smaller pieces to dry quicker.

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