The goosefoot, or Chenopodiaceae family, includes diverse and nutritious species. Here in Central Texas, we have an edible wild variety of the Goosefoot family called lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) which frequently pops up uninvited, but is actually a tasty, spade-shaped leaf richer in vitamins A and C than spinach. This family also includes epazote, a pungent herb used for culinary and medicinal purposes in Mexico, and more familiar garden veggies: beets, spinach, and Swiss chard.
Swiss chard is a well-suited Goosefoot crop for Central Texas gardens and is a great choice for beginning gardeners as it’s hearty and forgiving. Chard is brimming with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and fiber. It thrives in cool weather and survives Austin’s light freezes, but also tolerates warmer weather, outlasting leafy greens in the Brassica family (like kale and cabbage) in the spring.
Travis County-appropriate varieties include Bright Lights, Fordhook Giant, Lucullus, Rhubarb Chard, and Ruby. “Rainbow Chard” seed mixes yield gorgeous bouquets of white, yellow, fuchsia, crimson, and orange-stemmed green leaves — these bring a pop of color to your garden and your table.
Swiss chard should be planted between August and mid-October, with September being ideal. Plant seeds ½-inch deep and 4 inches to 6 inches apart. Chard seeds, which look like tiny, spiky balls, are actually clusters of several seeds, so seedlings often sprout up close together with their roots intertwined. As soon as they sprout, select the strongest seedling in each cluster. Carefully pinch off the weaker seedlings at soil level, rather than pulling them up, so you don’t damage the roots of the seedlings that remain. Then gradually thin remaining seedlings to 12 inches to 15 inches apart as plants mature.
Chard is ready to harvest two months after planting. If you plant in September, chard might be a bright addition to your Thanksgiving table. You can harvest leaves continuously from the same plant throughout the season by cutting or snapping off three or four large outer leaves at a time, allowing the smaller inner leaves to replace them. Keep plants well-mulched and add compost and/or another organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion (dilute according to label instructions), to the soil around the plant once per month.
Eat tender small leaves raw in salads, or sauté larger leaves in a hot pan with olive oil and garlic, serve over pasta, or mix them into your favorite stir fry. You can find many varieties of Swiss chard at Sustainable Food Center’s farmers’ markets this fall. While you do your shopping, talk to your farmer about their favorite tips for growing and preparing chard, or try your hand at this Sustainable Food Center recipe for Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche.
Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche
½ bunch Swiss chard
1 Tbsp. olive oil plus oil to coat pan
1 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup strong cheese (shredded Parmesan, crumbled goat cheese, etc.)
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove stems from Swiss chard leaves and set aside. Coarsely chop Swiss chard leaves and stems, keeping them separate.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté Swiss chard stems, onion, jalapeño, for three minutes. Add garlic and sauté for two minutes more. Add Swiss chard leaves and sauté until just wilted (about one minute).
Whisk eggs in bowl. Add half of cheese and salt and pepper.
Lightly coat pie pan with oil. Add vegetable mixture. Add egg mixture.
Bake 20 minutes. Put the rest of the cheese of top and bake for ten minutes more or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Broil for one to two minutes to brown top.
Serve hot or room temperature.
— SFC’s The Happy Kitchen’s Fresh, Seasonal Recipes Cookbook