How I love growing chard! It's a sturdy plant with beautiful, tasty foliage and stems of many colors. The whole plant can be eaten in salads or cooked.
I always wonder why more people aren't growing chard -- it's so easy to do!
In the spring, sow seeds directly into the garden two weeks before your last frost date, or start growing seeds indoors three to four weeks before your last frost date. Soak seeds overnight in water before planting.
In fall, start growing seeds about 10 weeks before your first frost date, and set the seedlings out when they are four weeks old. Protect young seedlings if the temperature drops below freezing with mulch, a cloche, or a row cover.
If you start seeds indoors, don't let the seedlings get too big for their pots or they won't do as well. When they start growing their first few sets of true leaves, begin hardening them off and get them outside.
Sow seeds 3" (8 cm) apart, 1/2-3/4" (1-1.5cm) deep. It can take from 5 to 15 days for the seeds to germinate, depending on weather conditions. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge, and replant any that don't sprout after two weeks' time.
Because these plants are growing so close together, you will need to either thin the seedlings to 8-12" (20-30 cm) apart by snipping with scissors at the base of the plants you don't want. This will avoid problems caused by planting too close together.
Or you can wait until the extra plants are at an early harvesting size for salads and pull the entire extra plant out when you're ready to eat it, making sure not to damage the surrounding plants.
Chard seeds often have two plants growing in them. Snip out the weaker plant as soon as it emerges to give the stronger plant more room to grow.
Young chard needs a bit of help at first to keep from being overwhelmed by faster-growing weeds.
As the plants gain size, though, they do a fair job of shading out late-season weeds.
Mulching helps keep down weeds, as well as keeping the soil cool and moist. Bitterness in chard is entirely due to dry soil.
Harvest outer leaves as they reach the size you want (this can take 4-6 weeks) by cutting them off with a knife or garden scissors. New leaves will form all year long as long as the central bud is left undamaged. Any wilted or damaged leaves on the outside of the plant can be cut off and composted.
If you want to harvest the full plant, cut it off at 3" (8 cm) high and it will regrow (but it won't look as nice).
In late summer, water the leaves with compost tea. This will help them have the proper nutrition to make a nice fall crop, which will continue until several weeks after the first frost.
Even if the outer leaves become damaged by frost, the inner leaves are often just fine. I've seen chard plants die back after a hard freeze yet regrow the next spring.
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And an article (link opens a new window):GrowVeg.com guide to Swiss chard