Monday, September 24, 2012

Grandma Dana’s Red Chard

Chard selections can vary from thick succulent leaves to very delicate thin leaved specimens.  They can boast bold leaves up to 18 inches long, much smaller leaves reminiscent of dwarf spinach, and their flavor can range for a stout, bold chard tang to a delicate and refined flavor to please the most discriminating of palates.   Hand selecting seeds in your own garden is a great way to get the red chard your heart desires.
Grandma Dana’s Red Chard has much to recommend it.  When young, it is a compact plant that minds its manners in the garden.  It would be ideal for small spaces or containers.  The leaves reach to about 8 inches, and are right in the middle of thickness and flavor for the range of what chard can offer.  Not too strong, not too wimpy, just about perfect!  In addition it is tolerant of frost, and of recurrent ground freezing and thawing.  Here in my yard it proved hardy down to 10F and produced through the winter on about 4 hours of direct sun.  And it proved to be fairly drought tolerant through a dryish winter and spring.  

In late spring, it outdid itself with flowering and later with seed production.  While the flowers were no showier than other chards, the stalk shot up about four feet—with side branches reaching 18 inches in every direction.  And the fragrance?  On My!  Beets and chard are very closely related, and there are beet varieties that grown purely for the fragrance of their pollen, which is used in perfumery.  This chard smells so sweet, so complex, so wholesome -- am thinking I will plant it beneath every window, just for the fragrance alone!  To top it all off, it is just as colorful as any other red chard selection, and that winter shot of red in the garden is a joy to behold.  

I have saved a pint of seeds so far, with another pint tossed around the yard at random, and there is probably another pint of immature seeds on the plant.  In my little germination test, the seeds all sprouted in seven days,  with each “seed” producing between two and six seedlings.  (Chard “seeds” are actually multi-seeded fruits.)

Grandma Dana's Red Chard two weeks after planting.

This fabulous germination was under very adverse soil temperature conditions.  Over night the soil sometimes got down to 40F degrees and during the day it was occasionally as high as 100F.  They are very adapted to a broad temperature difference between night and day!  The copious seed production and the quick uniform germination makes Grandma Dana’s Red Chard ideal for micro green and baby leaf production, in addition to the vegetative stage being well adapted for small gardens and containers.

I can offer full tablespoons of Grandma Dana’s Red Chard through either Listia or eBay, to anyone who would like to try it in their own garden or small farm, for chard breeding purposes, or for those who would like to grow it out for small scale commercial seed production.   

This offer is likely only good until this year’s seeds run out.  I actually have a different strain of red chard that I personally hand selected, which I am planning on growing out this year.  If it survives to flower, (my seeds are old) I will keep it isolated from Grandma Dana’s chard for the first season, so I can offer untainted seeds of my own strain, but after that I intend to let them cross.  So, if you want seeds of this strain, be sure to contact me via comments or Listia.  If I don’t already have an auction set up (and if I still have seeds available) I will set up an auction at your request.

Once you have your seeds (no matter what seeds you are working with) plant them between ¼ and ½ inch deep in rich potting soil, keep them evenly moist and in bright light.  If your winter time temperatures go much below ten degrees, save some of your seed to start a second crop for early spring. If you want single seedlings for cell packs—start them in a sandy mix, and prick individual seedlings apart once the clusters have germinated, and then replant in good a rich potting mix.  Seedlings will need direct sun in the morning and in the late afternoon, at the very least, to keep from getting leggy.  When your seedlings are big enough to safely plant out in the garden, choose a spot where they will get at least 4 hours of direct sun a day.  

Young chard leaves and micro greens are good in salads, older leaves can be chopped and briefly steamed, sautéed, or braised for a colorful, tasty, and healthy side dish.  They can be added to soups and casseroles, omelets and soufflés, and included in any recipe that calls for greens of any kind. Bumper crops of chard can be dried, frozen, canned, or made into the most amazing sauerkraut you ever had.  Consult Joy of Cooking or any other good down-home cook book for recipes and instructions.

If you want to share tips or recipes, or if you have questions; either about obtaining seeds or about growing or using chard—please feel free to leave a comment!

Here are the same seedlings from above at five weeks from planting, with no fertilizer!  If I were growing micro-greens they would be ready to harvest!
Photos and text Copyright 2012, Harvest McCampbell all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share using the buttons below or to post links.  Please contact me before reposting or publishing.  

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