Updated: Jul 23
Swiss chard is definitely on our list of low-maintenance survival plants. Like its relative, the beet (also Beta vulgaris), it's a plant that grows well without much effort. Chard greens can be harvested continuously to encourage new growth. The plant does best in the cooler months of spring and fall, but can tolerate light frosts and heat, often surviving for years if given shade in the summertime and protected during deep freezes. It's growing habit makes it a suitable garden companion for a number of plants in the garden and it's easy to tuck into blank spots in the landscape, making a pretty ornamental with vibrant stems that add a pop of color.
It can also tolerate quite a bit of abuse. Our chard has been eaten down to nubs by deer, frozen down to nubs by crazy weather, and it has still bounced back. We've found a variety called "perpetual spinach" that appears to be hardier and more cold tolerant than other varieties.
Working with Chard
Chard, like beet greens, is extremely versatile and can be used just like spinach. Cut the leaves away from the base and toss them into soups and stews and stir fries, add them to quiches, quesadillas, omelets, pastas, or just sauté with a little bit of garlic, soy sauce, and lemon.
Chard: Observations in Cold Tolerance
We’ve been gardening a long time and, in our experience, chard is pretty cold tolerant and will do ok in 20 degree temps as long as they aren’t prolonged. But...the past couple of years have been different. With the warmest December on record since 1889(!), our chard didn’t have time to acclimate to the icy 30+ mph winds and week of below freezing temps we got. Even our kale couldn’t take it. This has been a challenging fall for veggie gardening.
Here’s three pics from 2022 for documentation’s sake:
Jan 1 - all the plants were loving life
Jan 5 - post-freeze, when we were cutting all the dead stuff off and wishing we had covered/harvested more
Feb 1 - the chard is starting to regenerate