Swiss Chard: A Hardy Summertime Staple
By Dani Lind | Photo By Jim Klousia 0
Everyone thinks of summer as salad season, but for a northern gardener, high summer is a terrible time for salads. When the sun is at its zenith and the temperatures soar, most salad greens turn bitter and go to seed. Great care and energy (not to mention water) must be taken to produce lettuces and baby spinach in the middle of summer. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing farmers and gardeners who make it happen because, dang it, consumers demand salad year-round. But if seasonal eating is your thing, you might want to consider eating more hardy cooked greens during the height of summer, greens that can withstand the heat, like kale or collards or one of my favorite vegetables—chard.
Chard wasn’t always a favorite for me. Its slightly bitter flavor, caused primarily by its oxalic acid content, was a bit much when eaten raw or cooked plain. But I still always grew it because I knew how nutritious it was and because it’s so pretty in the garden. Plus, it will hold all season without bolting or requiring replanting in successions like spinach or lettuce.
Years ago my husband and I built an attached greenhouse onto the front of our old farmhouse. It wasn’t until I started planting it full of hardy greens for the winter that I really got to know and appreciate eating lots of this top producer.
The greenhouse is about eight feet by 21 feet and consists of two long raised beds that we plant directly into. I’m a very lucky girl because in addition to a door to the outside, the greenhouse has a door directly into our kitchen. As long as the sun is shining (the greenhouse is unheated), I can harvest hardy greens and herbs in my slippers and pajamas most of the winter. In those months, these fresh greens are a real treat to supplement what we’ve put up from the previous summer in the freezer or pantry. But when it gets really cold and dark in early January, all but the toughest plants die or go into hibernation until it warms up a bit. Chard, however, is a survivor—and a prolific survivor at that.
We northerners grow chard as an annual because our harsh winters kill it off. But botanically, the whole beet family (of which chard is a part) are biennials, meaning they flower and set seed their second year if allowed to grow in a protected environment. Turns out, my greenhouse qualifies. But here’s what really blows my mind: I’ve had chard plants survive not two years, but four!