In the world of leafy greens, colorful Swiss chard can be pure eye candy with its green, red, yellow, or orange stalks and large, dark green to purple leaves. Actually a subspecies of beet, Swiss chard is a biennial usually grown as an annual for its broad and tasty leaves. For the impatient gardener begging for a fresh vegetal crunch, chard can be harvested early as a baby green for salads. If you can resist this temptation, leaves will remain harvestable as they mature. Chard does best in cooler weather but will tolerate heat if given sufficient moisture. In mild climates, it can be planted all year round.
A large upright variety, Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard can grow up to 2.5 feet tall, making for an extraordinary yield. Stalks begin light green and turn white once mature, with stems growing as wide as 5″ across at their base. The thick leaves are puckered and dark green. This variety is considered an all-season crop with a very long harvest period and will tolerate more summer heat than other types. Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard is reliable in a wide range of climates and can overwinter in milder areas. A good choice for container growing.
Seed Depth: 1/2–3/4″
Space Between Plants: plant at 4″, thin to 10–20″
Space Between Rows: 18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 45–80°F
Days for Germination: 5–10
Sow Indoors: 5–6 weeks before average last frost date, or 3 months before average first frost date for a fall crop.
Sow Outdoors: 2–4 weeks before average last frost date, or 2 months before average first frost date for a fall crop.
Will grow best in cool weather but will tolerate summer heat if kept well-watered. This variety is bolt resistant and more heat tolerant than others, surviving summer temperatures of over 100°F, particularly if given some shade. It’ll also tolerate light frosts down to around 25°F. Plant in fall to grow fresh greens throughout the winter in USDA Zones 8 and above.
Natural: Full Sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade if growing in hot weather.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent lamps. Needs at least 12 hours of light daily; however, more is preferred.
Soil: Prefers loamy soils with a high amount of organic matter. A pH of 6.0–6.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Will germinate well in a variety of soilless media, including rockwool and coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in deep water culture or ebb and flow media bed hydroponic systems. Use gravel or clay pellets as your growing media because of their good drainage.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate amounts of water in the early stages of growth but will generally need an increase in applications in the hotter months. If it’s allowed to become too dry, chard will turn quite bitter. Aim for 1 to 1.5″ per week.
Nutrients: Prefers nitrogen-rich fertilizers such as composted manure or blood meal. A standard balanced fertilizer such as a 15-15-15 can also benefit plants once the leaves begin to grow.
Foliar: A bi-weekly foliar of sea kelp or fish emulsion will help plants thrive.
Pruning: Older leaves should be harvested from the bottom of the plant throughout the duration of the season to encourage growth in the newer leaves.
Mulching: Although not required, chard can benefit from organic mulching such as straw or wood chips to control weed populations.
Rotation: Can be rotated with most other crops.
Companions: Grows well with members of the cabbage family, beans, hot peppers, and onions. Avoid melons and corn.
Harvest: Leaves may be harvested throughout the growing season, but be mindful to leave enough baby leaves (about 2/3) for later harvests: taking more than this will damage the plant. Harvest mature leaves anytime after the plant has reached approximately 6″ tall by cutting the leaf stalk as close to the main stem as possible. You can harvest leaves that are up to full size, which can be as big as 24″ with this type, but the leaves under 12″ will be more tender.
Storage: Leaves may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Do not wash until ready to use.
History: Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard was first introduced in 1924 by Washington Atlee Burpee, the founder of the seed company of the same name.
Preserve: Leaves may be blanched and frozen or pickled.
Prepare: Can be cooked in ways similar to spinach, e.g., sautéed, steamed, or baked into dishes. Prior to cooking, many people will cut the leaves off of the central stalk since they can be tough even when cooked. Leaves may also be eaten raw, particularly when harvested at smaller sizes.
Nutritional: Contains exceptionally high levels of vitamin K as well as moderate levels of vitamin(s) A and C. Also contains fatty acids, such as omega-6 and -3, antioxidants, and trace amounts of most major minerals.
Medicinal: Has been noted to be a positive addition to any diet as it can help control cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate. It has also been linked to reducing the risk of colon and prostate cancers.
Warnings: Patients on anticoagulant medications should consult their physician prior to consuming Swiss chard due to its high levels of vitamin K. Those who suffer from urinary tract stones should also consult their physician prior to consuming this vegetable: it contains high levels of oxalate which can increase the chance of stones.
Try this tasty Swiss Chard Pesto recipe with your abundant harvest. With the high yields of Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard, you could even make a double batch and freeze some for later.