After the first killing frosts of the fall have occurred, our choice of vegetables from the garden becomes rather limited. Gone is the abundance of the late-summer produce, and we must be content with the root vegetables which can endure some early-fall frost. One above-ground vegetable that is an exception is Swiss chard.
I always seed about a two-metre row of Swiss chard each spring and it develops nicely by late August, but with the plethora of other vegetables, somehow it never seems to get any attention from us until we begin to hunt for things to eat from the garden at this time of year. By fall the stems are large and some of the leaves will display some slug damage, but for the most part it is in very good condition and ready for harvest.
I plant the variety “Bright Lights” which produces a rainbow of stem colours including yellow, gold, orange, pink, violet and green. Most of the leaves are green with coloured veining, but the burgundy stalks have burgundy leaves. Very old outer stalks are best discarded in favour of the smaller, more succulent ones nearer the centre of each plant. To harvest chard, the stalks can simply be snipped off near ground level with a pair of scissors, although care must be taken to ensure stalks not being harvested are not broken off. Chard stalks are very brittle and will snap off when bent or brushed against.
Swiss chard plants are quite large, growing about 50 cm tall and each plant can spread almost that wide as well. If the seeds are planted too close together it is wise to do some thinning early in the growing season so the plants have space to develop and they will be easier to access for harvesting. We harvest the stalks throughout the early fall and on frosty nights I simply throw a blanket over the row to protect it. Chard is quite hardy and until very hard frosts occur, the plants will be fine with just a bit of protection on frosty nights.
I like chard stalks boiled or steamed in a bit of water. Adding pepper and salt and some butter after they are cooked enhances the flavour. The leaves will cook faster than the stalks so they should be added to the pot partway through the cooking process. Some people use chard leaves to make cabbage rolls and other such delicacies. Chard stalks can also be baked, perhaps with some cheese, onion and tomato as accompaniment. I’ve even heard of chard “au gratin!”
If you are mourning the fact that you can no longer whip out to the garden to get some vegetables for supper this late in the year, consider sowing some Swiss chard next spring. You will then be able to enjoy this delicious vegetable next fall after the harvesting of most other vegetables has come to an end.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba