Swiss chard is both beautiful and edible

Swiss chard

Quiz question of the day: What is one vegetable that you would grow in the garden to eat and use as a low, decorative hedge in the front yard? One of the best answers would be Swiss chard. It is just beautiful! Just look at those brightly colored stems and thick, crinkled leaves. This photo was taken in front of a restaurant in Houston. Chard’s colorful stems and bright green leaves make it the single most glamorous garden green. It is super nutritious, too.

You would think that a vegetable called Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) would be originally from Switzerland, but that’s not the case. It is most closely related to a garden beet, which is native to the coastal regions of the Mediterranean. In English, it is also known as chard, white beet, strawberry spinach, sea kale beet, leaf beet, Sicilian beet, Spinach beet, Chilean beet, Roman kale and silverbeet. Early American settlers knew it as “beet chard.”

Swiss chard is an ideal vegetable to grow in Texas. It likes full sun and will like a little shade if planted in a spring garden. A great spot is at the edge of a deciduous tree canopy where it will receive full sun in winter and a little dappled sun as things begin to heat up. Our slightly acidic soil may need a little addition of lime. Don’t forget that our Extension Agency (409-835-8461) will test your soil for you.

Chard can be grown in the ground or in containers. It will tolerate cold and heat but not the super heat of our July and August. Our rare hard freeze will kill it, too. We can plant it in our fall gardens and in our early spring gardens as swell. Swiss chard is under-utilized and under-appreciated by most of us. It is available in our Saturday morning farmers’ markets now.

A great primer on Swiss chard is “Swiss Chard, Underrated Garden Star” by P. Leander in Texas Gardener online. Leander says, “As urban and suburban gardeners try to coax the most from their landscape, Swiss chard has gained recognition as a space-efficient, easy-to-grow and good-for-you vegetable.” You can easily grow chard from seed or small transplants from the nursery. She calls it the “Energizer bunny” of the garden — it just keeps going and going. You don’t need to harvest the whole plant, just clip off the outside leaves that you need for the day.

Sauteed Swiss chard with Parmesan cheese

Rinse and chop one bunch Swiss chard leaves. Heat two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Stir in one tablespoon  of minced garlic, 1/2 of a chopped red onion, and cook for 30 seconds. Add chopped chard and a 1/2 cup of white wine. Simmer about five minutes until leaves wilt. Finally, stir in one tablespoon of lemon juice, two tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, and salt to taste. Enjoy.

Mark your calendar

The very popular Free Tree Giveaway project of Jefferson County Master Gardeners will be held Feb. 17 at the Master Gardener Test Garden at Jack Brooks Regional Airport, 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. Bring bags and boxes for trees. You will get small, strong, one-year old seedlings. Chairman, Glen Watz takes time off from planning culinary adventure tours to head this great program annually. He says, “Look for Shummard Oak, Cherrybark Oak, Sawtooth Oak, Nuttall Oak and Cypress.” He adds, “We appreciate Campbell Global Group for providing these bare-rooted hardwood seedlings.”

Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides  herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”