Chard. Honestly, if you grow nothing else, grow chard. It is bullet proof, prolific, long lasting, beautiful and, most importantly of all, tasty. Sow anytime between March and August in shallow drills, thin the seedlings to around 20cm apart and wait. Just wait. Untroubled by slugs, snails, gales or hail, chard will rocket skyward in a matter of weeks. Once established, you will have leaves to pick all year round. In fact, by the end of Autumn when it gets really enormous, and believe me it does get extraordinarily big, you can cut it back to the ground and it will re-shoot in the Spring. The most important thing is to keep picking. Unchecked, chard will grow and grow. Once, after a 2 week holiday I came back to find chard leaves big enough to wrap my springer spaniel in (he wasn’t impressed). By this stage they are a bit leathery and not nearly as tasty.
Often called ‘leaf beet’ on seed packets, chard comes in all sorts of colours – green in leaf but pink, orange, red, yellow or white in stem. I grow Rainbow which, predictably, is a mix of 4 or 5 differently coloured varieties. Brightly coloured types are, I think, to be favoured over the standard white stemmed varieties which look a bit like a pak choi and taste almost as bland. They grow fabulously well in pots and, because you harvest them as cut and come again leaves, they are perfect for small spaces. Just plant one seedling in the middle of a 30cm diameter pot and keep it well watered.
So you’ve grown it. Now for the eating. Unlike spinach, it doesn’t wilt down to nothing quite so dramatically, so a couple of large plants will keep a family in chard for most of the year. You don’t need to go loopy and plant a whole 4 metre row (yes, I have done that – it’s just so pretty). There is, as I have found, only so much chard you can eat. The stems need a little more cooking than the leaves so I either blanch or wilt stems for a minute or two in a pan before adding the leaves or I just shred the whole lot very finely and it will cook all at once without issue.
Serve it wilted with a good knob of butter. It’s earthy flavours also go beautifully with a good salty cheese like feta. But I love it best on pizza….