Leaf beet, or chard, is becoming more popular thanks to the cultivars with brightly coloured leaf stalks and the revival of interest in growing ornamental vegetables, as well as its suitability to provide mini-leaves. It is similar to, but easier to grow, than spinach as it is less likely to go to seed in dry weather and one sowing produces a crop that lasts many months.
Chard needs an open sunny site in rich, moisture-retentive free-draining soil, although it can tolerate some shade in summer.
Add organic matter the autumn or winter prior to sowing if necessary. Add 70g per sq m (2½oz per sq yard) of Growmore or other general fertiliser.
Sow thinly 2.5cm (1in) deep, 10cm (4in) apart in rows 45cm (18in) apart, from March to July. Two sowings – one in April and the second in July – are usually sufficient. The July sowing provides leaves the following spring when growth resumes.
Alternatively, sow in modules or trays and transplant when large enough to handle.
Sow every two weeks to produce mini-leaves.
Sow in broad drills as ‘cut and come again’ crops from April to August.
Thin seedlings to 30cm (1ft) apart, or every 5cm (2in) for mini-leaves.
Water before the onset of drought; mulch when the soil is warm and moist.
Cover plants for overwintering in October with cloches or protect the crown with straw or similar material, then cover with fleece.
Troubleshooting Growing Problems
Downy mildew: Worse in mild, humid weather, the felty mildew makes the leaves unappetising. Well grown plants in gardens are not usually badly affected except in wet weather. Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse.
Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. You can help to prevent this disease by making sure there is plenty of space around seedlings and plants to improve air circulation, watering the soil at the base of the plants, and by choosing mildew resistant varieties.
Grey mould: Can be a problem in densely sown crops, especially ‘cut and come again’ veg crops. Seedlings suddenly collapse. This is a problem normally in wet conditions, and is usually worse on weak or damaged plants. The mould usually enters through a wound but, under the right conditions, even healthy plants will be infected. You will see fuzzy grey mould on affected buds, leaves, flowers or fruit. Infected plant parts eventually shrivel and die.
Remedy: Sow thinly and when conditions are warm. Hygiene is very important in preventing the spread of grey mould. If you see it, remove the infected material and destroy. Grey mould is encouraged by overcrowding, so make sure you plant your seedlings, plants and squashes at the appropriate distance apart.
Birds: Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Remedy: Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
Cut off the outer leaves first when they are young and tender, working towards the centre. Don’t wait until they reach maximum size.
Harvest regularly to ensure a constant supply of tender re-growth.
Harvest cut and come again crops at any stage when seedlings are around 5cm (2in) tall. The thinnings can also be used whole.
Gather mini-leaves as soon as they are usable. They should re-grow if a small stump is left.
beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, onions