Chard, or leaf beet, is an attractive vegetable, with leaf stalks in an array of bright colours. It’s similar to spinach, but easier to grow as it’s less likely to go to seed in dry weather and one sowing produces a crop that lasts many months. Young leaves can be eaten raw in salads, while larger leaves are delicious cooked.
Jobs to do now
- Sow seeds outdoors
- Thin seedlings from earlier sowings
- Harvest leaves from mature plants
Month by month
Chard grows best in an open, sunny site, although it can tolerate some shade in summer. It prefers rich, moisture-retentive, free-draining soil.
Add organic matter (such as home-made compost) to improve the soil, ideally in autumn or winter prior to sowing. Just before you sow, you can also add a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4, at a rate of two handfuls per square metre/yard.
From March to July, sow seeds thinly, 2.5cm (1in) deep and 10cm (4in) apart, in rows 45cm (18in) apart. Two sowings – one in April and the second in July – are usually sufficient. The July sowing provides leaves the following spring when growth resumes.
Alternatively, sow in modules or trays indoors, and transplant outside when large enough to handle.
To produce regular pickings of mini-leaves for salads, sow small batches every two weeks.
For cut-and-come-again crops, where you pick a few leaves from each plant at regular intervals, sow from April to August in broad drills.
Thin out the seedlings once they’re large enough to handle, to 30cm (1ft) apart, or 5cm (2in) apart for mini-leaves. Use the thinned seedlings in salads.
Water in dry spells. Spread a thick layer of mulch, such as garden compost, around the plants when the soil is warm and damp, to help hold in moisture and suppress weeds.
In October, cover plants for overwintering with cloches or protect the crown with straw, or similar material, then cover with fleece.
Worse in mild, humid weather, the felty mildew makes the leaves unappetising. Well grown plants in gardens are not usually badly affected except in wet weather. Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse.
Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. You can help to prevent this disease by making sure there is plenty of space around seedlings and plants to improve air circulation, watering the soil at the base of the plants, and by choosing mildew resistant varieties.
A usually grey, fuzzy fungal growth which can begin as pale or discoloured patches. Grey mould ( botrytis) is a common disease especially in damp or humid conditions. Spores enter plants via damaged tissue, wounds or open flowers. Mould can also damage ripening fruit such as strawberries. Black resting spores survive over winter.
Remove damaged plant parts before they can become infected. Cut out infected areas into healthy tissue and clear up infected debris. In greenhouses, reduce humidity by ventilating and avoid overcrowding of young plants and seedlings.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Individual plants can provide pickings for several months, and if you sow in spring and again in mid-summer, you should have harvests for most of the year.
Cut off the outer leaves first, when they’re young and tender, working towards the centre. Don’t wait until they reach maximum size.
Harvest regularly to ensure a constant supply of tender re-growth.
Pick cut-and-come-again crops at any stage, once the plants have reached at least 5cm (2in) tall.
Snip mini-leaves as soon as they’re a usable size. They should re-grow if you leave a small stump.
Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace pops chard into his delicious frittata with Parmesan
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