A member of the beet family, chard does well in both cool and warm weather. Aside from being a rainbow of colors, it grows prolific, so it’s important to leave plenty of room in the garden bed. Generally, it’s grown as a cool-season crop as it grows rapidly and easily during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall. While chard is tolerant of hotter temperatures as well, its growth will slow down in summer.
Planting and Growing Information:
While chard can tolerate partial sun, it grows best in full sun, and prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral). If you will be planting chard in the spring, plant the seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. For a fall harvest, plant chard seeds about 40 days before the first fall frost date (many chard varieties will tolerate a light frost). To speed up germination, soak seeds in water 24 hours before planting. Sow seeds ½ to 1 inch deep, 2 to 6 inches apart, in rows 18 inches apart. Continue to plant seeds at 10-day intervals for a month.
When plants are 3 to 4 inches apart, thin to 4 to 6 inches apart, or 6 to 12 inches if plants are large. To avoid disturbing nearby plant roots, use scissors. To help the chard grow better, water evenly and consistently. Make sure to water plants during dry spells in the summer. To help conserve moisture and suppress weeds, mulch the plants. When plants reach about 1 foot tall, cut leaves back to 3 to 5 inches to encourage new tender growth. If chard plants become overgrown, they become less flavorful.
Before you plant it in your garden, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil. When the chard is ready to be planted, apply 5-10-10 fertilizer to the area. While it’s not necessary to use fertilizer on chard, in the event yours seem to be remaining small, consider applying a balanced fertilizer halfway through the season.
Depending on which size leaves you desire, begin to harvest when the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall. Cut off outer leaves 1½ inches above the ground with a sharp knife. Be sure to avoid damaging the plant’s center. By harvesting regularly, the plants will produce continually. Incorporate the “cut-and-come-again” harvesting technique, which entails taking the largest, oldest leaves and leaving the young ones to continue growing. To extend the harvest, lift the plant with roots in the soil, and transfer to a container in a greenhouse. Be sure to maintain the temperature at around 50°F. At first, the chard will appear limp, but it should rebound.