By Marianne Binetti
Fall is for planting, and Swiss chard is my favorite fall vegetable for a winter-long source of homegrown nutrition. Swiss chard is not only good for you but also easy to grow and harvest all winter in the Northwest. If you grow the variety Bright Lights, above, you get the bonus of colorful red and orange stems that liven up the winter garden.
There are three ways to get your Swiss chard supply ready for winter: cut back existing plants, plant new seeds, or add new transplants. First, check the plants now growing. If the Swiss chard you planted in spring is starting to bolt, or go to seed, fall is the time to get snippy with it. Look for long stems reaching for the sky.
Cut this new growth back in late summer and fall, and add the pruning bits to salads, stir fries, soups, and stews. Then mulch your plants before the first hard frost. They should continue to send up tender shoots; you’ll be able to harvest the outer leaves from those plants all winter long.
Tip: You can transplant Swiss chard from your garden into pots you can move to a covered porch or patio during winter. The leaves keep producing when protected by frost, and the new shoots and outer leaves are easy to harvest on dark winter nights, when your meals need extra color and nutrition.
The second way to grow Swiss chard this fall is plant new seeds. The young seedlings look a lot like weeds, so mark the spot where you sow and be patient—Swiss chard seeds may take weeks to germinate. The seedlings take off growing in spring, once the weather warms, giving you a jump on the new growing season.
The third and easiest way is to buy Swiss chard plants already started in pots. You don’t even need a garden area or patch of ground. Remove the young plant from the small pot and plunk it into a larger container—even one that recently held your summer annuals. Now you have a winter potted vegetable garden full of nutrition and color, and with almost instant results.
Fall offers a second lease on life for many edible gardens. Sometimes it’s even better for growing vegetables than summer. See what you can grow this autumn.Learn More