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New Swiss Chard Is Edible, Ornamental
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Bright Lights is the new Swiss chard honored as an All-America Selection for 1998, and it really looks as though you will want to try it.
You may be asking yourself what in the world is Swiss chard. One horticulturist has described it appropriately as a beet without a bottom. They are a source of wonderfully edible stems and leaves that are like spinach. Another horticulturist describes it as perpetual spinach, which also happens to be a variety name.
Swiss chard is believed to have been developed from an ancestral form native to the Mediterranean region. It is now grown all over the world, even in highland tropical regions like South America and Northern India.
Bright Lights is an edible plant that has ornamental landscape qualities. You will not believe the brilliant rainbow of colors it has. Southerners love our greens, and having one that has ornamental colors like a croton is great.
Plant stems can be yellow, gold, orange, pink, violet or striped, in addition to the standard red or white. Bright Lights has other assets, such as a milder chard flavor.
Bright Lights produce multiseeded fruits typical of beets or chard. It is usually sown in early spring, but it can be a fall crop, too. In fact, Swiss chard can be almost a year-round crop - - tolerating light frosts. Its greatest virtue may be its ability to take summer temperatures that make spinach and lettuce bolt.
You don't hear many people talk about Swiss chard, yet it is very easy to grow and produces over a long period of time, allowing multiple crops to be sown.
Swiss chard prefers a neutral to slightly alkaline soil, so liming is necessary in much of the state. Work in generous amounts of organic matter during bed preparation to help the soil hold moisture for those fleshy stems and leaves.
Sow seeds about four weeks before the last spring frost or about 60 days before temperatures are expected to hit the mid-20s. Sow additional crops about three weeks apart.
Space plants 6 inches apart in the row and space the rows 18 to 30 inches apart. Adequate nitrogen is essential for rapid leaf growth, so sidedress several times during the growing season.
Swiss chard is harvested by cutting or breaking off the outer leaves when they are 12 to 18 inches tall. You may cut them when they are smaller and more tender. You can lengthen production by harvesting.
Leaves that get too large will develop tough stems and are then good only for cooking like spinach. The stems are sometimes prepared like asparagus.
Cut the stalks into 2- or 3-inch lengths and simmer in boiling salted water until tender. Serve hot with butter and a touch of wine vinegar.
Chop the leaves and cook quickly in a minimal amount of water, just the water that clings to the leaves. Serve hot with bacon and wine vinegar dressing. The leaves are also great fresh in tossed salads.
Look for Bright Lights seed next spring, and try some in your garden and flower bed.