With a bit milder taste than its cousin spinach, it’s not surprising that Swiss chard is among a home gardener’s favorite leafy greens to grow.
What’s more, its sweet-tasting stalks resemble another close cousin, beets.
Chard plants are quick and easy to grow from seeds to harvest and can even survive a little frost.
When to harvest Swiss chard? In about four to six weeks after planting Swiss chard, you can expect to harvest healthy green leaves. Wait until the plants are around nine inches tall. Alternatively, you can harvest baby leaves here and there to add to a fresh salad.
How Do You Know When Your Swiss Chard Is Ready to Harvest?
Regardless if you’re a newbie home gardener or not, you will find that growing Swiss chard is easy.
You can choose to sow seeds or grow transplants.
Swiss chard will grow best when planted in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil and exposed to full sun.
Basically, they have the same growing requirements as spinach and lettuce.
For an early harvest, you can start them early because the seedlings can survive frost.
Once it reaches one to two feet (approximately 30 to 60 centimeters), you can begin harvesting chard.
More often than not, you will have to wait 45 to 60 days to harvest mature leaves.
These large, green leaves are perfect for stir-fries, as a salad base, or added to wraps and sandwiches.
Alternatively, you can choose to harvest them when they are still young, at about four inches tall.
Baby Swiss chard is tender, has no midrib, and has a slightly earthy and nutty flavor similar to spinach.
These tender leaves will be ready for picking in as quickly as 30 days after sowing Swiss chard seeds.
Aside from the green leaves, you can cook and eat the ribs and stalks, much like how you would eat asparagus.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Swiss Chard?
Chard plants enjoy the cool season and will thrive in spring and fall.
The good thing about these leafy greens is that you can continue growing and harvesting them until it frosts.
If your area experiences extremely cold winters, you’ll want to grow chard for early summer or late spring harvest.
Keep in mind that they can only survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
You will notice their growth slowing down in the late fall, and they will probably die back over the winter.
Then, come next spring, you can expect them to grow and produce greens again.
On the other hand, regions with hot summers will want to grow chard plants for an autumn or winter harvest.
Compared to other leafy greens, Swiss chard can withstand warm temperatures.
As long as summer temperatures stay in the 80-degree-Fahrenheit range, your chard plants will thrive.
However, there’s a good chance they will bolt and start to bloom in very warm weather.
To address this issue, cut off the bloom stalk as soon as possible to encourage the plant to grow more leaves.
You can also extend the harvest by lifting the plant from the ground and transferring it to a greenhouse.
As long as you keep greenhouse temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the chard plants should continue growing.
How To Harvest Swiss Chard?
Deciding when to harvest Swiss chard depends on the size of the leaves you prefer.
You might like the crunch of the mature leaves more than the mildly sweet flavor of the baby leaves.
Either way, the key is to follow the cut-and-come-again harvesting method.
Here, your goal is to cut off the outer, more mature leaves first and leave the younger and more tender leaves to grow.
This way, you will have a continuous supply of fresh greens you can use in your recipes.
Here are the steps to harvesting Swiss chard:
Step 1: Prepare your tools.
Before anything else, you will want to make sure that your tools are clean and ready to use.
You will need a sharp pair of garden shears or your favorite serrated knife when harvesting chard.
The best time to harvest chard is when you actually need them.
Step 2: Cut the outer leaves.
Using your garden scissors or knife, cut the leaves one by one at around two inches off the base of the plant.
Make sure you don’t damage the plant’s center when doing this so that it will continue to grow.
Step 3: Cut all the leaves if you also want Baby chard.
You can cut off all the plant’s green leaves—young and old—as long as you leave the growing point intact.
Cut the leaves at about two inches from the soil for new leaves to grow quickly.
Step 4: Harvest regularly.
Again, the plants will continue to produce new leaves if you harvest regularly.
Come back and take out the outer leaves once or twice a week during harvest season to encourage the plants to grow even more.
Step 5: Regularly check for pests and diseases.
Obviously, you want your chard plants to survive the growing season and last all the way through harvest time.
What’s more, even when they are often cultivated as an annual, Swiss chard plants have a two-year life cycle.
Therefore, it would be best if you regularly watch out for pests and diseases.
Among the most common are downy mildew and leaf spot, which are fungal diseases that result from too much moisture and lack of spacing.
You might also see leaf miners, flea beetles, and aphids here and there.
Step 6: Store in the crisper drawer.
For proper storage, put them in perforated plastic bags and toss the bag in the fridge’s crisper drawer.
They like a cool and moist environment, so check that the fridge is at 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and has 95 percent humidity.
Unfortunately, if you fail to meet these storage conditions, you will notice the leaves yellowing and wilting, and the midrib will show brown spots.
Step 7: Blanch and put in the freezer for longer storage.
For even more longer storage, you can also freeze chard leaves.
Stored this way, you can have a good supply of these leafy greens for up to a year.
To do this, begin by separating the leaves from the stem.
Unfortunately, frozen chard stems do not defrost well and become soggy, so removing them is preferred.
Bring a pot of water to a boil as you wash the leaves several times.
Once clean, put about a pound of the leaves in the water and allow them to blanch for two full minutes.
After the time is up, remove the leaves immediately and put them in an ice bath for two minutes.
Lastly, drain the water and put the leaves in freezer-safe bags or containers.
Should You Wash Swiss Chard After Harvesting?
As you have probably noticed, Swiss chard has ruffled leaves, so it tends to hold onto soil and other debris.
For this reason, you will need to wash them thoroughly before eating.
To wash away the dirt from your chard leaves, use a large bowl with lukewarm water.
Then, swish the leaves around and notice the soil coming off. Repeat this process until you see that the water is clear.
Next, set the leaves in a colander to drain.
If you will be storing the leaves for future use, allow them to air dry completely before doing so.
Alternatively, you can use a clean cloth or paper towels to pat each one dry.
Washing greens will introduce too much moisture to the plant, which can hasten spoilage, so make sure you dry them completely.
Expect Swiss chard to stay fresh in the fridge for one to two weeks if stored correctly.
Can You Eat Swiss Chard Immediately After Harvesting?
As mentioned, you will have the best flavor and crunch if you harvest Swiss chard close to mealtime.
You can then eat it raw or cooked, depending on your preference.
However, you will most probably want to cook large, mature leaves because they can sometimes become bitter when eaten raw.
It would also be best to cut out the midrib first and then use the leaves in soups, casseroles, or even pasta.
Generally speaking, you can use Swiss chard as an alternative to kale or spinach.
If you harvested too much, give out some to family, friends, and neighbors.
Otherwise, keep the remaining in the fridge, and they will stay good for about 10 days or more.
Grown for its delicious leaves and stems, Swiss chard is one of those plants that every home gardener wants in their garden.
Even better, it packs in a long list of goodness—from disease-fighting antioxidants to fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium
Like most leafy greens, Swiss chard is also low in calories and may help promote weight loss, decrease insulin resistance, and lower blood sugar levels.
It will grow best when planted with celery, cabbage, lettuce, and legumes.
Even better, because of its ruffled leaves, it won’t look out of place when grown alongside annual flowers like marigolds, sweet alyssum, and nasturtiums.