ruby in the dirt: Swiss chard

Swiss chard is not a vegetable i ever ate, or even recognized, until we started growing it. now i realize why — the ordinary-looking stuff in the grocery store only vaguely resembles the luxuriant plants now growing themselves so effortlessly in our backyard.

today we have two varieties of Swiss chard going — the big and boisterous heirloom Ruby Red Rhubarb, and some sweet and petite Rainbow. Ruby Red (pictured below, along with a ruby-redheaded child) has been a real star — thriving in the fairly ideal environment of our raised beds, surviving in our hot, dry, much less inviting (for vegetables) xeriscaped borders. it’s grown through all 4 of our San Diego seasons, yielding enough tasty green leaves with crispy ruby stems for our family (4 solid food eaters) to eat 3 times a week. the plant pictured here is 2 years old.

Screenshot 2014-03-30 20.28.07

the child is 4.5 years old. she and the chard look like best of friends here, but she will NOT eat it in any recognizable form. more later on disguising vegetables for the purpose of feeding them to children.

our Rainbow chard has enjoyed a pampered existence in a portion of our raised beds that receives filtered, 3 season sunlight. 6 plants yield enough small-ish (<10 inch), smooth leaves for us all to eat our fill of them twice a week. these plants went in this fall, so they’re now about six months old. fingers crossed they perform as admirably as their scarlet-stemmed cousins.

Swiss chard passes (surpasses) each tenet of my “is it worth growing in the garden test“:

  • can I, organically and with relative ease, grow a better product than I can find in the grocery store?
  • if I grow it, will we eat it?
  • can I buy a perfectly acceptable substitute so easily and inexpensively that it’s just not worth it?

the chard we grow here is way prettier (and i’m guessing way tastier) than what i’ve seen at the store. it’s grown well with no special care and despite some real neglect. i can harvest a little or a lot at a time, so none ever goes to waste. cut, washed, and packed away a little wet, it stays fresh in the fridge for more than a week.

oh yeah and it tastes great! the green parts of the leaf are tender, with a flavor not unlike spinach, but lighter, more neutral. the stems stay crispy after steaming and are lightly sweet. i like to chop them up and they do fine things for a spaghetti Bolognese. finally, it’s more than paid for itself, still feeding us — daily — several years after I first tossed those seeds into the ground.

chard is the vegetable cornerstone of our vegetable garden. if you’re not growing it already, I invite you to try (and if you’re local, I have seeds for both the varieties discussed here, and will gladly share).

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