Monday, February 3, 2014

Swiss Chard - The Original Ornamental Edible

My winter blogs have been understandably more reliant on color to get us (me) through these dismal months.  It was sunny and frigid cold today but that can describe most of our weather over the past month or so.  We did have a nice volunteer turnout today with some of the Grumpies going out in the gardens.  Terry went out to bring in lights and Urban was out pruning this morning.  Marv and Maury ran some errands while Pat and Gene worked on processing lights and some other indoor projects.  Gary and Dr. Gredler painted while Ron Y., Jim and Vern all worked on carpentry projects.  Dick H. became immersed in some vehicle repairs.  We also saw Del, Gary S., Janice, Ron W., Rollie and many others.  Pat C. came in to help me with some spreadsheet preparations and other office duties (much appreciated!).  Larry and Bill worked on snow removal and some other projects while I bounced between my usual seed ordering, presentation preparation, etc.  With the WPT Garden Expo coming up this weekend, we're getting all of our "ducks in a row" for set-up on Thursday and the event on Friday through Sunday at the Exhibition Hall of the Alliant Energy Center (Madison, WI).  See for more event information.  We are selling tickets for this event at the Cottage Garden Gallery (while supplies last!).  The ticket lines can be lengthy at the Expo so consider pre-purchasing your tickets in order to streamline your entry.

I think I've focused on Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) in the past although it is not a plant that I feel can be over-promoted (or over eaten).  It is a true ornamental edible!  Swiss chard is dynamite as a summer vegetable, having nutritious stalks and greens.  One cup of chopped Swiss chard has only 7 calories and contains significant Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and also potassium, magnesium, Vitamin K, protein and fiber.  Swiss chard will thrive in our summer heat with adequate moisture and decent soils.  You can continually harvest stalks from the outer portion of the plant or cut back severely as needed (hence the other name of "perpetual spinach").  This plant will generate new growth after a severe cutting which I accomplish at home three times each summer (for every clump of chard).  Beets (also Beta vulgaris) are closely related and while also having edible greens, generate the "beet" that is a very nutritious, swollen taproot.  There are some fun varieties of beets (look for 'Bull's Blood' and 'MacGregor's Favorite) with very dark foliage that is ornamental and edible too!  As this blog will illustrate, Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) also has colorful veination and stems/stalks.  Most varieties will stay under 18" tall but all have textured leaves that feature a vein color and stem coloration as well.  Some selections are mixes of many colors (see 'Bright Lights' below) while many, like 'Orange Fantasia' directly above and directly below, are selected for their specific color contribution.  You can't go wrong with Swiss chard in a sunny spot and even if  you don't "acquire the taste", this plant can be a strong component in the garden.  If you aren't cutting stalks for consumption, consider removing the older, outer stems on occasion to expose the brightest (and youngest) growth.

'Orange Fantasia' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
'Bright Lights' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
'Bright Lights' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
'Magenta Sunset' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
stalks of 'Pink Lipstick' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
'Silverado' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
'Rhubarb' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
stalks of 'Rhubarb' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
stalks of 'Peppermint' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris)
traditional garden use
ornamental garden use
use in a mixed border
use in a mixed border
2013 use of 'Bright Lights' Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris) in our vertical pallet planter

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