Saturday, June 30, 2007

Swiss Chard in the Garden and in the Frying Pan

I decided to get back into vegetable gardening this year. I've had gardens in the past, some more successful than others. Usually, though, I end up just planting tomatoes and cantaloupe, some herbs, and maybe one other veggie. I was prompted to do this when we were considering getting a share in a local CSA. I showed my husband the pamphlet, and while the whole thing looked great and the farmer was using organic practices, it was a lot of money all at once. On top of that was the fact that we either didn't know or didn't like several items on the list of what would be in our share each week.

Swiss chard in early June.

So my dear husband said we could grow what we like to eat ourselves and it wouldn't cost as much. While there is great truth in that statement, it really meant that I'd be doing all the work. And I didn't know how successful I'd be with my garden. So then we'd still be paying for veggies and the garden costs, too.

Swiss chard 3 weeks later.

But ever up for a challenge, I skimmed through my old copy of Square Foot Gardening, which has a new, revised edition out now. I made a list of what I thought we'd both like and be able to grow. I even threw in a new one for us--swiss chard. So here's the list of what I ended up planting, either from seed or plants:

  • broccoli--never got enough at one time to make it worth it--next year I'll plant a lot more

  • carrots--their tops are growing well, but they haven't been harvested yet

  • swiss chard--we really love spinach, but it doesn't grow well in our southern heat, so the season is short; I thought this would be a nice alternative and bought a pack of seeds that were called "neon lights mix" and the picture showed chard with red, yellow and white stalks--they're doing really well and I'll probably plant more next year

  • cucumber--growing great on our fence, some are just about ready to pick

  • cabbage--worms got to all but a couple, so we may get to eat some, but I doubt it

  • chamomile--first seeds didn't do well, so I bought another variety and they're starting inside right now

  • stevia--growing well but not ready to harvest any yet

  • yellow squash--looking promising

  • red and yellow peppers--plants doing well

  • apple, birdhouse and dipper gourds--vines are looking good

  • pumpkin--ditto

  • watermelon--not sure, the vines are there but not very big yet

  • cantaloupe--monster vines, small fruits already

  • onions--leaves look good, who knows what we'll end up with, and I tried red, white and yellow onions to see what would grow and what wouldn't

  • parsley--I have two plants, probably could use more next time; they're doing well but I would use it more if there were enough

  • peas--did not plant nearly enough! I got two varieties, a dwarf (little marvel) and an extra early (maestro), both were delicious

  • radishes--first time I planted the seeds in planters and they just didn't grow much; I've replanted seeds in the ground and they are growing well

  • spinach--two varieties, neither did well because I was using containers, I think

  • tomatoes--oh dear are we going to be swimming in tomatoes! I bought a 6-pack of cherry tomatoes, 6- or 8-pack of plum tomatoes, and then a better boy and an early girl; all are doing really well; I plan to freeze a lot of them right off the vine

  • basil--once again, container planting didn't work this year for some reason--could have been the soil mix I'm using, or just the heat--I've replanted the basil in the ground and hope it will recover and I'll grow more from seed next year

  • cilantro--growing slowly, can't wait for it to get large enough to start harvesting

  • potatoes--just planted a few to see what would happen and the plants look great; I keep piling grass clippings and wilted comfrey leaves around them and hope they'll like it

  • orange mint--from cuttings my mom gave me--doing great in the container, go figure

  • blueberry bushes--2 new ones for this year, a mid and a late season, they look like they're happy and we are getting some berries from them

  • black raspberry bush--never tried this before, but we did get about a cup this season

Wow! That is a long list. I didn't realize how much we were growing this time.

So, just last week I decided that it was about time for us to try the swiss chard. Would we like it, or would it be a flop? I harvested what looked like a lot, to me, and found directions for cooking greens in general. The stalk on the chard is really hard, so while it's very similar to spinach, you have to rinse and then cut the stalk out before cooking. I just sauteed the chard in olive oil and some garlic (on my list to plant this fall; we love garlic!). The recipe recommended sauteing for a few minutes, till tender, then putting a lid on and cooking a few more till the liquid had been cooked off.

By the time it was cooked, what looked like a lot was enough for two servings. I should have guessed it would be just like spinach. Eddie and I (when we were buying washed, bagged spinach) could eat a whole bag when it was cooked this way. The verdict on the chard was that it was similar to spinach, but not the same, maybe a little more bitter. But I like it and so does Eddie, so it was a success. The kids don't generally like spinach, so they didn't try the chard. Oh well, more for us!

Update: I wasn't sure about the tomato plants, so I went and recounted--I've got 5 cherry tomatoes (sweet 100's), 4 plum, 8 of a variety unknown to me--but an average-sized tomato, and then the better boy and early girl. There, I feel better now!

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Laura said...

WOW! Holy-garden-jackpot! That's an enormous garden for a re-initiation - can I come over and see it? I adore swiss chard and grow the neon lights mix, too. I have a wonderful soup recipe for chard that I'll send you if you want. And I like it's flavor as I get tired of spinach. I freeze it, too - just chop and blanch for 1-3 minutes, squeeze out excess water, and freeze in ziplocks. Great for adding some green to soups in the winter or tossing into stir-fry. The stalks have been known to be good raw, like celery, and I just chop the whole stalk and saute it with the leaves.

And stevia? Wow, I have never heard of anyone growing that so we must not be able to grow it here. That's cool. How big IS your garden? Did you till up a huge plot or was the spot there already? For many years our garden got bigger every year, now it's been getting smaller as we've grown busier.

I figgered maybe you'd already done the meme, but it was worth a shot! I'm always a day late and a dollar short. LOL


Silvia said...

You are always welcome! Yeah, the garden sounds big, although it's spread out all over the place so it doesn't seem that overwhelming to me right now. :) We have a fenced front yard, and the part that runs along the road is probably 70 ft long. All the tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon are along that fence.

I planted some pepper plants in with some of my native plants in a new bed, same for the yellow squash, also in the front yard. When we first moved to this house, we fenced an area about 25 by 30 feet, and I made a whole bunch of 4ft wide rows, a la Sq Ft Gardening, but not square, with paths between them, plus used the fence on the inside for tomatoes, cantaloupe and other vining stuff. We've abandoned that and made a much smaller area, still 25 ft wide but just maybe 10 ft deep. It has a 10 ft tall fence (basketball hoop on the other side) that's great for the cantaloupe.

That's where I planted onions, potatoes, carrots, luffa, cabbage, broccoli, swiss chard, radishes, cantaloupe, peas, cilantro, and we had a blueberry bush there already. I just planted small amounts of most things, so I could see what I could grow. Next year I'll be doing more. :)

And where the peas were, I've planted more carrots. As things like the broccoli are done for the season, I'm using that space for other things that I could start later. You are welcome to join me next spring to get things started! And thanks for the tips on chard--hopefully I'll have enough to freeze.

Stephanie said...

Oh we love our Swiss Chard too! We eat the smaller leaves (stem and all) raw in salads too.

Thank you for the Make It From Scratch Entry!

Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

Awesome garden - we have sunflowers, peppers, beans and tomatoes...

We also planted our very first sunflower house!

I hope it turns out well!

Laura said...

Well I am very impressed. I love the style of gardening where one plants all over. I remember once having my tomato plants in a flower bed and even my non-gardening (heck, non-YARD) BIL admired the idea. I have friends who have THE most lovely, meandering, artistic gardens and I wish they lived closer so I could sit in it and drink my morning tea. :) So, more pictures, please! I can always use the inspiration m'self.

I am a good work-horse... so if I'm in your neck of the woods someday, put me to work.