Grow it yourself: silver beet

Call it silver beet, chard or Swiss chard. It is what you start planting as space becomes available from now on to offer a reprieve from frozen peas in winter. In fact you can grow it pretty much any time of the year but there are more delicious crops to eat in summer. Some of us think there are more delicious crops to eat in autumn, winter and spring as well but it is the proven ease and reliability which has made silver beet such a longstanding vegetable garden staple. Some people even claim to like it.

Being a leafy green, silver beet likes lots of organic matter, nitrogen and water. This is a crop where you can dig in animal manures, preferably composted first (and definitely composted if it is poultry manure). Sow the seed and cover lightly to a depth of a couple of centimetres. You can eat the thinnings as fresh salad greens when young, achieving a final spacing of around 30 to 40cm per plant. Silver beet can be a handy plant for tucking into odd spaces instead of a uniform row. It will sit there for a long time until it bolts to seed in spring because usual practice is to harvest a few leaves as you need them, rather than picking the whole plant at once. It is that cut and come again ability in cool conditions that makes it so handy. Just don’t cut too much at once or you will weaken the plant.

The rainbow coloured chards with red, yellow and pink stems and leaf ribs may add a decorative element in the garden and to raw salads when young, but they taste no different to the usual white stemmed version and the colour disappears entirely if you do more than the lightest blanching. However, they may encourage children to take a more kindly attitude to what is essentially an obliging but utility vegetable which is dead easy to grow and high in iron.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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