i decided to group these two cousins of the goosefoot family together. since they are related, i frequently plant them in the same bed: the beets in the front and the taller chard in the back.
i love beets for their versatility: the tops can be eaten as well as the root.
i love swiss chard for the beautiful shape and color it brings to the bed.
it has taken me some years to get the hang of growing these two. i have learned the hard way that they are heavy feeders and like lots of water. once i figured that out, i managed to have a lovely bed of leafy chard and beets.
i like the bright lights variety of chard the best simply because i think the red and yellow stems are strikingly beautiful in the garden. i have also used fordhook giant too with great results. when it comes to beets, i really prefer the detroit dark red variety. last fall every plant produced wonderful tops with a nice sized root. i planted a row of bull’s blood in the same bed as well. while we got nice tops with great color, the roots themselves were very small. other than the lovely greens (which were more burgundy than green) i wasn’t too impressed. i have also tried chioggia, which, when sliced, reveal “candy cane” red and white stripes. however, like the bull’s blood these were too small in size and i haven’t been too eager to try them again.
as with the peas and the lettuce, beets and chard are cold weather vegetables and will even tolerate a bit of frost. in fact, i had eight little chard plants that survived in my garden bed all through the fall and winter. this spring, instead of planting seeds, i simply transplanted them to another bed. i figured if they had lasted through the blizzard, they deserved a chance. they wilted some due to shock but seem to be holding on. we’ll see how they do.
i don’t typically soak these seeds, i just put them right into the bed adequately spaced, and at a depth of about 1/2″. pat them down firm and then water, water, water. seed tapes are available as well if you prefer. water well every day until they germinate. be patient. each beet seed contains several tinier seeds that have to germinate, and then penetrate that seed coat. it will take a few weeks. this is another thing i had to learn the hard way. the first time i planted beets, i gave them up for duds before waiting long enough to see them sprout.
once they have sprouted, slack off on the watering just a bit. if you don’t they will rot at the base of the stem and lop over.
once they have their second set of leaves (also called the true leaves) and are a few inches high, begin to fertilize. i fertilize mine about once a week and water every two days or so, keeping the soil nice and consistently moist. use whatever fertilizer you like or happen to have on hand, just use according to the instructions on the label.
harvest the chard when the leaves reach the desired size; allow two months for them to reach full maturity. as with the lettuce, you can harvest the outer leaves as you need them, allowing the center to continue growing. harvest your beets also when they have reached the size that you like. like the chard, it will take about two months for them to reach full maturity. you will notice the tops of the roots come up through the soil. the tops and the roots can be harvested separately.
happy growing! goosefeet are worth the trouble and the wait.