Rainbow Chard - Easy Organic Silverbeet

Common name: Rainbow Chard
Botanical name: Beta vulgaris
Family: Amaranthacea
Aspect & Soil: Sun to part shade, good soil
Climate: All
Habit: Upright, branching
Propagation: Seed or seedlings
Difficulty: Easy
 
Family: Amaranthacea
A colourful leafy  vegetable that has been grown since early last century in European countries  and  established  as a  heirloom favourite  in that part of the world.  In Australia, Rainbow Chard has only been grown in more recent times, and has become fashionable as a home grown ornamental vegetable.  It has gained popularity as a blend of micro greens on cafe and restaurant menus with the increased trend towards eating out. 
 
Rainbow Chard (image below) is very nutritious with the dark green mineral rich leaves being high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, vitamins  A, C, K and E.  The long colourful stems are a rich yellow/cream and can also be red.  The broad green leaves are a contrast to the coloured veins which makes this plant highly decorative in the garden.  It can be grown in the vegetable patch as a mixed border, as it is an erect grower with the large green leaves on top exposing its brilliant stems.  What a picture it would be in the front garden and entrance to the home as an edible ornamental, neighbours and visitors will be talking about the attractive plants.  This vegetable fits beautifully in small spaces and suitable for pots or container growing.
When to plant 
Cool climate . Sow seeds towards the end of the last frosts, in late winter early spring, right up until first frosts begin in autumn avoiding mid winter sowings.  
Temperate climate. Sow in the coolest months from mid autumn until early spring but avoiding mid winter sowings in inland frosty areas. 
Subtropical climate. Sow mid autumn to late winter, avoiding any hot conditions.
Tropical climate. Sow mid autumn to late winter only, avoiding any hot humid conditions. 
 
How to Grow 
Rainbow Chard enjoys growing in the cooler conditions and does well in full sun or with half a days shade.  Well established plants will tolerate frost and will grow better with some protection. There is less stress on the plant when avoiding the hot summer heat, and the heavy winter frosts.  The initial growing stage for tender young seedlings can be crucial and by providing some shelter will help them keep growing.  The use of other taller plants nearby will protect the young seedlings and also by planting closer to a building or covering with shade cloth will also help.         
             
Tip: Positioning plants to receive afternoon shade as the spring and early summer months heat up will extend the harvest time and minimise wilting of the leaves.
 
A deep watering once or twice a week, early in the morning or late afternoon is preferable in dry conditions.  Best results can be achieved by directly watering underneath the leaves when they are wilting and not too much that the plant gets waterlogged.  Mulching is very beneficial in holding in soil moisture for the plants root system and reducing evaporation.  It’s excellent for keeping weeds to a minimum. There are various mulches available on the market such as pea straw, sugarcane and Lucerne hay.  Fresh lawn clippings can be used by adding animal manure or an organic based fertilizer that will assist in maintaining nitrogen levels.
The natural change to longer daylight hours will enable the Rainbow Chard to go to flower.  These are an insignificant green colour that when fertilized will form into a hard seed clump with several embryos – polyembryony and is ready to collect at the light brown stage.  This can be sown with confidence that more than one plant will germinate from each seed. 
 
A soil depth of around 20cm is needed to grow healthy plants.  Loose friable soil combined with organic matter either of compost, animal manures or dig in a green crop of plants.  They prefer a ph 6-7.  The use of dolomite or lime will boost the ph if initial test readings are low.  These additions will also increase calcium and magnesium levels that are essential for optimum growth. 
 
Seedlings can be raised by sowing seeds in pots or seed containers.   Simply fill the pot or container to the top with seed raising mix and level the soil.  Sow seeds sparsely about 3cm apart and cover lightly with 1cm of soil and keep moist until the seedlings start to emerge.   When the seedlings have grown to 5cm, transplant them to the garden or pots and keep them moist.  Sowing Rainbow Chard seed direct in the garden is another option.  Create a fine soil till with a garden rake, plant two seeds together at spacings of 30-40 cm apart.  Cover seed with 1cm of soil, keep seeds moist, especially the top few centimetres.  Thin out the weaker plants when they are about 5cm high.  
 
There are many fertilizers such as liquid seaweed, fish emulsion and pelletised chicken manure that can be used as side dressings if required.  This will help keep the growth coming with the continual harvesting.  Soil food such as compost and vermicast can also be added to promote healthy plants.   If plants are growing and doing well, there is no need to provide extra food.
 
Trouble Shooting
Leaf spot is the main problem that can occur for Rainbow Chard with moist humid conditions.  This will show up on the surface of the leaves as several small dark round spots.  Avoid watering the leaves and aim at the soil level.  If the leaves are damaged, they can be cut and discarded.  Snails and slugs will feed on the leaves and like to hide in the centre of the plant or on the underside of the leaf.  Be prepared with beer traps sprinkle bran on top and bury the container at soil level, spent coffee grounds around the seedlings act as a deterrent.  Pet friendly bait iron based pellets also work very well. 
 
Harvesting, Storing and Preserving
Rainbow Chard leaves and the stalk can be harvested when they are 20cm long.  The stalk can be cut using a knife or secateurs where it joins the stem.  
Pick fresh leaves and stalks as required or if there is an abundance place in a plastic bag and cool store for up to a week at 5 degrees C. 
For longer storage remove the stalks and blanch the leaves for 2 minutes, cool in cold water, drain and freeze in plastic freezer bags.  It will keep up to 1 year. 

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