Growing Chard in The Northern Territory
Chard, also known as silverbeet, swiss chard or rainbow chard is a great spinach-alternative and packs a hefty nutritional punch. This great beginner crop is easy to care for and grows in most conditions. It’s a great cut-and-come-again leafy green that produces almost all through the year.
Chard originated in the Mediterranean, so it’s well suited to the Australian climate. It’s a great alternative to spinach for the warm Top End climate and can be grown right through the year.
Chard is classified as a hardy biennial, which means that the plants are expected to live and produce for two years, but if they don’t get too stressed by heat or drought, they’ll usually produce well for around 3 years. If the plants go to seed or don’t produce well in the temperate months, then you know it’s time to take them out and put new plants in.
Chard is easy to grow as long as the plants have enough water and nitrogen. Chard is a quick and vigorous grower so you can begin harvesting within a few weeks. Once the plants are established, they produce a terrific abundance which will keep you, and your freezer, and maybe even your neighbours well-supplied.
Chard is usually green with a green or white stem, but there are also beautiful, brightly coloured varieties available. The pinks, oranges, yellows and even reds are a beautiful addition to any part of the garden and the young leaves are particularly striking in salads. These beauties can be found separately or in mixed packs and are often called rainbow chard. They are usually slightly less vigorous than the green varieties, but still produce an impressive amount and make up for the lack of vigour with their beautiful displays of colour.
Chard is a great, easy-to-grow veggie. Just keep your plants well-fed and well-watered.
Chard likes sun, but will be quite happy in a spot that gets some afternoon shade. It’s not a fussy plant and will grow happily even in part-shade, but does have better yields if it gets more sun. During the hottest parts of the year, it may be necessary to provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.
Work in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure. Like other leafy greens, chard is a heavy feeder and needs a soil that it rich in nitrogen.
Seeds can be sown all throughout the year, but if you’re sowing during the hottest months, you’ll need to keep an eye on them. They may need extra water during a dry spell or protection from heavy rains.
The seeds can be sown into trays or directly into the garden. They prefer not to have their roots disturbed, so where possible, sow them directly into the spot where they’ll grown. Sow them at a depth of 2cm and keep the soil moist until they germinate. They usually have a high germination rate and may need to be thinned slightly to get the spacing right. The packaging often suggests quite wide spacing, but the plants can actually be grown closer together. A spacing of around 30cm is usually enough, but you can experiment in your garden and see what works best for you. If you plan to harvest regularly, then it is usually better to have more, slightly smaller plants. If the plants have sufficient spacing, they can grow to an impressive size, but the younger leaves are milder and more tender, so the closer spacing tends to give a more continuous crop of high-quality leaves.
Chard can be planted all through the year. If you’re planting during the hottest months, keep an eye on your seedlings and for the first week or two to make sure they settle in well. They may need extra water during a dry spell or protection from heavy rains.
Chard seedlings don’t like to have their delicate roots disturbed, so be gentle with them when planting. Add a small amount of organic bonemeal to each hole before planting. The bonemeal will help your plants establish strong root systems which will feed your plants and help them to produce an abundance of glossy, delicious leaves.
Pick from your plants regularly and remove any damaged or diseased leaves. The plant will keep using its energy to grow the damaged leaves. So, if you spot a leaf that’s damaged to a point where you wouldn’t want to eat it, rather just remove it so that the plant can put all that energy into the other leaves.
Keep the soil moist. Chard likes lots of water to really thrive. It’s pretty drought-tolerant and will put up with neglect and dry times, but if you’re after a bountiful harvest, then you need to be watering regularly.
Chard is pretty hardy and can tolerate a considerable amount of neglect. If you’re after bumper harvests; feed it regularly with a high-nitrogen organic feed. Fish emulsion, some well-rotted manure or a slow release organic fertilizer are all great options. Foliar sprays are very effective with chard, but just remember to give them enough time to wash off and rinse the leaves well before eating or they’ll taste terrible. Yellow leaves are a sure sign that your nitrogen levels are too low, so keep an eye on them and give a nitrogen-rich feed whenever they’re looking hungry.
Chard appreciates a good mulch to keep the soil consistently moist and protect it from temperature extremes. Lucerne, sugar cane and pea straw are all great, organic options. Chard is a heavy feeder, so a compost mulch also works well.
Pick leaves from your chard as you need, always remembering to leave enough leaves on the plant for it to photosynthesize and keep growing new leaves. Leaving four or five small leaves is usually sufficient. Pick leaves from the outside of the plant. Simply hold the leaf by the stalk and pull it down, away from the plant and towards to ground. The leaf should easily snap away from the plant.
Chard leaves need to be washed well after picking. They keep for a few days in the fridge. If you would like to store them, they can be blanched and frozen.