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Swiss chard is easy to grow from seeds or nursery seedlings.

Swiss chard is easy to grow from seeds or nursery seedlings

Western gardeners recognize Swiss chard as one of the easiest vegetable crops to grow. Cook its leaves like spinach, and slice its edible stems to eat raw (like celery) or cooked by steaming or boiling.

Buying. At most nurseries this month or next, you will find started plants or seeds of the traditional white-stemmed, greenleafed chard. Also widely available is the popular 'Ruby'--or 'Rhubarb'--chard. This variety, with striking red stems and ruby-tinted foliage, adds a bright spot of color to the vegetable garden. It is also effective combined with annuals such as blue lobelia or white sweet alyssum.

Now you can also find chard with stems in bright gold, orange, and purple. Rainbow mix offers all these colors, plus red. Look for seeds on nursery racks, or order from Thompson & Morgan, Box 1308, Jackson, N.J. 08527 (free catalog).

Also available are some especially mild-tasting European varieties such as 'Paros' (order from Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 7389 W. Zayante Rd., Felton, Calif. 95018; catalog $1) and 'De Languedoc' and 'De Nice' (available from Le Marche Seeds International, Box 190, Dixon, Calif. 95620; catalog $2).

Planting. Gardeners in the high desert can sow seeds now. In mild-winter areas, put out plants now (sow seeds October through March). Where winters are cold, sow seeds now through June. Choose a sunny spot, and incorporate a soil amendment, such as compost or ground bark, to make soil loose and fast draining.

Place seedlings about 12 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Or sow seeds 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep, then thin once plants are growing well. Keep plants well watered.

To harvest (the first edible leaves should appear in about six weeks), slice off the outer leaves as shown above.

Photo: Chard seedlings removed from sixpack are ready to plant. One on right is 'Ruby', with red stems and roots. One of left is white-stemmed 'Fordhook Giant'

Photo: To harvest, slice off outer leaves. More foliage will grow from the center until fall
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Date:Apr 1, 1988
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