The fresh crinkly, edible leaves can be picked when young and used in salads dishes. Larger leaves can be cooked and served like spinach or the leaves can be cooked by steaming. There are a wide number of recipes available for cooking chard.
Seeds can be sown indoors, in a greenhouse in March and April to give the plants a head start. You can sow the seed clusters 2cm deep in pots or modular trays of damp seed compost at the rate of one per pot or module. Each cluster will produce 3-5 seedlings, so you will need to reduce these to one healthy plant. Ensure the pots or trays do not dry out. Germination takes 5-7 days.
Alternatively, you can sow directly outdoors into well prepared seed beds from April to July. Create a furrow around 2cm deep and sow the seeds thinly. Cover with fine soil and water with a watering can and fine rose attachment. Thin the emerging seedlings to 30cm apart for large plants, much less if growing for cut and come again baby leaves.
Growing in containers
Rainbow chard will grow well in containers of fertile soil or compost and the plants looks great placed on a sunny patio. Plants that have been grown under cover can be transplanted to containers from May onwards or when all danger of frost has passed. It’s always a good idea to acclimatise (harden off) plants that are grown under cover as they will be tender and susceptible to frost and wind damage.
Chard like to be positioned in full sun or partial shade but must be kept watered during dry weather. A liquid fertiliser feed can be applied every 2 weeks to ensure the plants grow strong and healthy.
Harvesting and storage
For a continuous fresh supply of leaves for salads, pick young leaves regularly to encourage new growth. Just one or two crops will keep the supply coming all through the summer months and well into the autumn. For cooking, large leaves can be harvested at any time but again the more you pick the more you will get. It’s best to cut through the stems cleanly with a sharp knife, leaving a few centimetres of stem in the ground, and working your way from the outside inwards.
Rainbow chard can be frozen for up to a year if first blanched and then packed in airtight bags.
Vitamins A, C and K and many other trace elements. It has anti-inflammatory properties. The leaves also contain a high level of nitrates, which are known to reduce blood pressure, and alpha-lipoic acid, which is known to control blood sugar levels.