Name: silverbeet, Swiss chard, chard, rainbow chard, Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris.
Height: up to 75cm.
Plant type: annual leafy vegetable.
Climate: in cool and warm temperate climates, plant from spring to autumn; in sub-tropical and tropical zones, grow all year round.
Soil: deep, well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 6–6.8).
Position: full sun to part shade.
Foliage: large dark-green, crinkled leaves with a fleshy white or coloured stem.
Flowering and fruiting: long spikes of small white-yellow flowers followed by knobbly cluster seeds, with 2–6 seeds encased inside each.
Feeding: liquid feed regularly throughout the growing season.
Watering: can tolerate periods without water but will perform better with regular watering to keep the soil moist.
Silverbeet is an attractive leafy vegetable that grows into a loose fountain of foliage. The stems emerge from a thick, edible root bulb and can be white, red, pink, yellow or orange. The coloured varieties are often referred to as rainbow chard, while those with the classic white stems are traditionally known as silverbeet or Swiss chard.
The leaves are large and fleshy with a crinkled appearance. The silverbeet stems and veins are prominent and contrast beautifully with the dark-green foliage, so it makes a great decorative plant in the vegie patch. It can grow up to 75cm tall and 45cm wide but is more compact when grown in pots. In garden beds, silverbeet tends to make the most of the space and grow to full size, although it can take several months.
Many use silverbeet as a substitute for spinach, but it’s perfect for soups, pasta or sautéed side dishes that require wilted leafy greens.
Choose a spot in full sun or part shade with well-drained soil. Enrich the soil with plenty of compost and organic matter. Roots can grow 90–120cm deep in garden beds, so dig deep to work the organic matter through. If growing in pots, use a quality potting mix with added compost. Sow seeds or transplant seedlings and gently water. Once seeds germinate, thin out to the required spacing, using the excess seedlings as salad greens. Water, feed and harvest regularly to keep plants healthy and productive.
Silverbeet is an easy-care vegie. Water and feed regularly throughout the growing season and mulch around the base of the plant with sugar cane or pea straw mulch.
Silverbeet needs regular watering for good growth. Water every 2–3 days, or more often during hot weather. Its leaves are made up of mostly water, so it will wilt if left unwatered in hot or dry conditions. Give it a good water and it should recover.
After 8–10 weeks, you can begin to harvest the outer mature leaves, leaving a few of the younger ones to continue growing. To harvest, hold the stalk near the base and twist to break.
Cercospora leaf spot is the most common fungal disease. Grey spots with brown margins appear on the silverbeet leaves and eventually fall out, giving the foliage a shot-hole appearance. The disease is prevalent in hot, humid weather and can be spread via water droplets, wind or insects. Treat with a suitable fungicide.
Snails and slugs favour the young, tender foliage. Use physical barriers or traps or spread snail and slug pellets around pots and garden beds.
Silverbeet grows best from seeds or seedlings.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Celery: another cut-and-come-again leafy green with a long growing season.
Spinach: baby spinach leaves are nature’s superfood, rich in iron, vitamins and fibre.
Kale: the ruffled or crinkled leaves are ideal in salads and smoothies.
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