Swiss chard has an extended growing season that lasts all the way into the winter months in most areas of the country. This hardy plant is a nutritious addition to any garden and very easy to grow. Follow these step by step instructions to learn how to harvest your Swiss chard plants, to encourage the optimal yield and enjoy these leafy greens the entire season.
Step 1 – Identify Mature Swiss Chard
Depending on your use of the chard, you may want to harvest the leaves at different maturity points. Though Swiss chard reaches maturity in 4 to 6 weeks, it can be eaten any time before that as well. If you're planning on eating it fresh in a salad, you will want to pick the Swiss chard leaves when they're only about 4 to 6 inches all. If you will be cooking the leaves, you'll want to wait until they are about 1 foot tall.
Step 2 – Picking Swiss Chard
To harvest the chard, use a sharp knife to cut the stalk at its base. Focus on cutting the outer leaves, as they are the oldest growth on the plant. After cutting the outer leaves, the inner leaves will soon grow in their place. Be careful when cutting the stems. You don't want to cut the inner leaves’ stems, as they're quite close to each other.
If you are not going to use the outer leaves because they are browning or riddled with insects, cut them at the base to encourage continued growth of the inner leaves. In the heat of the summer, chard is known to become bitter. If this happens with your chard crop, be sure to keep trimming the outer leaves, and check back with it when the weather cools. The bitterness often subsides by then.
Step 3 – Clean the Leaves
As with any produce from your garden, you will want to thoroughly clean Swiss chard before use. Check the underside of all leaves for bugs, especially if you're not using any pesticides in your garden. Wash the leaves and cook or serve fresh.
If you continue to harvest your plant and keep it in the active growth stage, it should produce all the way through the spring and summer, and in most cases all the way up until the end of the year. A very cold-hardy plant, Swiss chard can continue growing all the way through November, even in northern US states. If you want to extend the growing season even farther, a cold frame will typically ensure fresh chard through the winter months in colder climates.
If you get frost damage on the outer leaves, cut them away as you're harvesting and discard them. Normally, the inner leaves will still be protected and ready to eat.
Use these steps to keep your Swiss chard in great shape throughout the year.