First Harvest of the Season – Swiss Chard!

As I have written recently, I have been very enthusiastic about my gardening this spring, and this week I was able to make my first big harvest of the season. As Ray has mentioned in the past, I do all of my vegetable and herb gardening on my patio, and thanks to the sheer size of my Vegtrug, I am able to grow some very nice veggies. I planted Swiss chard seeds directly into the planter mid April, and here we are not very many weeks later, harvesting this delicious vegetable.

To be honest, until I met my husband Tom, I had never heard of much less eaten Swiss chard. He has always found that astounding. Swiss chard is a leafy green and member of the beet family that originates from Sicily. I think that would explain why his Italian American family grew up with a garden full of Swiss chard, and my English/Southern American upbringing was devoid of this green. I am certainly glad he set me straight!

When harvesting Swiss chard, remove a few of the largest outside leaves from each plant. New leaves will form and continue to grow. My sister-in-law Marie tells me she gets the entire summer from her plants in New Jersey. In my blazing hot climate, I do not, but until then, I will be able to harvest once or twice a week until the plants become overwhelmed by the heat.

Freshly Cut Swiss Chard

There are many ways to prepare Swiss chard, but today I will share the simple method that Tom enjoys the most. First things first. Don’t throw away the stems! This is something that we have often seen on TV cooking shows and have to turn our heads away in horror! The stems are perfectly edible and delicious. Tom thinks the stems are the best part. They just take a few minutes longer to cook than the leaves.

Swiss Chard Stems

Tom’s Simple Swiss Chard

1 Bunch of Swiss Chard

1/4 cup Italian Bread Crumbs

1 TBSP Olive Oil

1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

Salt and Pepper

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. While water is coming to temperature, thouroughly wash Swiss chard. Separate the stems from the leaves. Chop the stems into two inch pieces. If the stems are very wide, cut them length-ways down the center. Roughly chop the leaves into 2-3 inch pieces. Place the stems only into the boiling water for about 5 minutes or until the stems are tender. Add the leaves to the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the water. Toss the Swiss chard with Italian bread crumbs, olive oil and red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Tom’s Simple Swiss Chard

This recipe is meant to serve as a guideline. As bunches of chard can vary in size, so can to amount of these ingredients. If you only have plain breadcrumbs add about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning and sprinkle in some garlic powder. Just don’t miss out on this wonderful vegetable and don’t throw out those stems!

Tower of Terra

As spring has finally arrived with some degree of confidence, it is time to turn my mind to my garden. As Ray mentioned in a previous post, he likes to Aerogarden, and although I have one as well, my preference is to garden in containers located on my patio. Few things are better when cooking than to quickly step out the door and emerge seconds later with a freshly picked vegetable or herb.

I have a couple of large elevated planters which are wonderful, but as the years have gone by, I have added container after container, resulting in a patio that my husband Tom would call “cluttered”. I’m not sure if there is such a thing in my mind, but I don’t suffer the type of tunnel vision that would make me immune to the perception of others. One could objectively call it “cluttered”.

Recently, when caught up in my reveries, I began to think about how nice it would be to grow some strawberries. I thought about where I would plant some, and of course, I thought about containers. I’m sure I have an old strawberry pot or two in that garage of mine, but I don’t imagine they would be big enough for a meaningful amount of strawberries, so what else was out there? This lead me on a surfing journey that lasted quite a while as I waded through various types of planters and solutions, but there was one that stood apart from the others. It was the Greenstalk planter.

The Greenstalk is a vertical planter. The company is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the planters are made from food grade plastic, and made in the US. There are two types of container. The Original is 10 inches deep and holds 1 cubic ft. of potting mix. There is also the Leaf , which is 7 inches deep and holds .75 cubic ft. of potting mix. Each type is 19 inches in diameter and holds 6 plants. The containers are stacked on top of one another with a unique watering disk between each level and a watering reservoir on top. There are various configurations that can be purchased with a maximum of 5 levels of the original or 7 of the leaf planters. After digging around the internet and YouTube, I was able to find quite a few reviews and shared experiences about the planters, and that made me want one.

The next step would be to convince Tom that this was a good idea and so my campaign started. First thing was to tell him about the cool gardening product I found. Then of course, I had to reinforce by mentioning it again. All along, I knew what would convince him that we “needed” this. I would have to sacrifice some other planters! But remember each level has a 19 inch circumference and holds 6 plants, so really, I wouldn’t be giving anything up. So, I made my final play, and it was well received. In my ideal fantasy, I would be getting a 6 tier mix of original and leaf planters, but realistically, at 5’2″ on a good day, that might be a bit much for me to handle, and after several weeks of high winds, I had to agree with Tom that the 3 level planter would be the best way to start. The great thing about this compromise is that because this system is modular, if I should want to add another level in the future, I can purchase the planter and watering disk separately and make it happen.

Greenstalk Planter

And so, my new season of gardening has begun. We enjoyed a nice of visit to the garden center for the first time in a year. I got my planting mix and a selection of herbs and flowers. The planters assembled easily and I have planted Thai basil, chives, English thyme, Greek oregano, parsley and rosemary. I planted 6 marigolds for beauty and beneficial properties, and I planted fennel, basil and dill seeds directly to the planter. Strawberries? The thing that brought me here in the first place? Not a one!

Thai Basil

What gardening implement have you discovered that you can’t live without or are excited about trying? Please share. Gardeners always inspire other gardeners!