Swiss chard is a cool weather heirloom vegetable that is treasured in the garden because it's easy to grow, nutritious, has few pests and a long harvest season. The brilliant colors and textured foliage make it a must in the ornamental kitchen garden or herb garden.

Swiss chard is a great addition to stir fries, soups, casseroles, dips and pasta dishes, much like spinach. It can also be prepared as you would greens such as collard or mustard, used as a celery substitute, or added to salads.

Chard needs good, fertile soil that has been amended with organic matter such as compost, leaf mold or aged manure. If the soil is prepared ahead of time in the fall for a spring planting, fresh manure can be worked into the soil as well. Chard doesn't like acidic soil, so add lime if it's needed to level out the PH. It should be planted in full sun when the soil has reached 50 degrees. It makes a good fall or early spring crop because it tolerates fairly cold temperatures.

Swiss chard can be sown into 1/2 inch deep holes spaced a foot apart directly into the garden. It has a very quick germination of less than a week after sowing and watering. Once the seedlings come up, thin to one plant per hole. Water well after sowing, and don't allow the soil to dry out. Watering should be consistent throughout the growing season.

Large containers, 12-14 inches in width, work great for planting chard, as long as the moisture level is watched carefully. Containers dry out much quicker than soil in the garden, especially on hot windy days. Chard tends to bolt, or go to seed, when it doesn't receive enough moisture.

Below are some of the Swiss Chard varieties available:

Fordhook Giant Chard
has large, dark green foliage and does well, even in the hot weather. It's an heirloom vegetable, first introduced in 1934, and it's still a favorite.

Bright Lights
is beautiful with the vibrant colored stems contrasting with dark green foliage. It's more mild in taste compared to other chards and tends to be slightly less cold tolerant.

Golden Sunrise
has brilliant orange stems with glossy green foliage. This is not only beautiful, but delicious as well. Can be used as early as thirty days for salad greens.

Five Color Silverbeet
is an Australian heirlooms that is a mixture of five colored stems; sometimes called Rainbow Chard. This heirloom made a come back after almost disappearing.

: Charlotte, a variety from Europe, has brilliant red stems and also does well in hot climates.

Swiss Chard harvesting begins in 8-12 weeks, so it's fairly quick growing. Harvest the leaves from the base as they become large enough (about ten inches tall), working your way into the center of the plant as the leaves grow. Using this method will make for a long harvest season. When cutting leaves for salads, use the youngest ones, saving any that have grown larger for cooking.

Chard is an all purpose vegetable that should be grown by everyone at some point. It's easy to grow and use in the kitchen, combines nicely with herbs and can be frozen for use in cooked dishes. Consider adding this to your garden, whether in a traditional garden plot, raised beds or containers.