The Cooks Garden: Silverbeet (Swiss Chard)
Silverbeet grows all year round in most climates. It tolerates temperatures as low as -14 degrees celsius and is tolerant of high summer temperatures as well.
It prefers sunny or only lightly shaded conditions and likes a rich, free-draining soil. In poor soils, silverbeet tends to bolt to seed, so before planting dig in a healthy helping of well rotted compost. The ideal soil pH is 6.5-7.5 and acid soils should be limed.
For a year round supply of silverbeet make 2-3 sowings from early spring to early autumn in cool or cold temperature zones. Of course in warmer parts of the world you can sow it all year round. If your gardening style is more laissez-faire you can always let one of your plants go to seed and you will have wild silverbeet springing up where the seeds fall.
When planting silverbeet seeds, it often helps to soak the seeds for a few hours prior to sowing. You can sow the seeds directly into the garden, or into punnets or trays and then transplant when the seedlings are around 10cm tall. Silverbeet should be planted with 30cm between plants.
It goes without saying that you should keep your silverbeet weed free - you can do this by hoeing around the plants or, better still, by mulching with well rotted compost. This has the added benefit of keeping the soil moist - which is really important especially in hot, dry conditions. Silverbeet likes plenty of water and nutrients.
Silverbeet likes to grow with beetroot and onions. It also grows well with lavender.
Growing Silverbeet in Pots
Silverbeet is a great vegetable to grow in pots if you have no garden. If you pick a variety with coloured stems, it makes a great ornamental feature!
Choose a well-draining pot and fill it with good quality compost with extra fertiliser. If you would like to make your own soil you could invest in a worm farm. Not only will you make wonderful rich soil, you will be recycling your green waste - no more food scraps in the rubbish - and you will also be creating fantastic liquid fertiliser to keep your silverbeet well fed as it grows. As long as the plants are well watered and fertilised you can plant them closer together than you would in a garden bed.
There is no need to purchase expensive pots. You can use buckets, heavy plastic bags, barrels . . . you are only limited by your imagination and drainage. Whatever you decide to use you have to make sure it has adequate drainage or your plants will drown.
Make sure the containers are the right size. If they are too small your plants will dry out quickly and become root bound, too big and the soil will hold extra water and your plant's roots will rot.Try to find containers in a pale colour so they don't absorb too much heat and cook your growing vegetables. Unglazed terracotta pots look great, but the soil dries out very quickly so they require careful monitering!
Remember to water your silverbeet regularly. Vegetables in containers dry out quickly and need more regular watering than those grown in a garden plot.
Silverbeet and Cottage Cheese Lasagne
This is my favourite silverbeet recipe!
For 4-6 servings
You will need:
Fresh Sheets of Lasagne
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons oil
1 small green pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 300g can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon white wine vingar
1/4 cup water
about 1kg silverbeet
1 cup cottage cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
black pepper to taste
1 cup cream cheese
1 cup grated cheese
Finely chop the onions and peel and chop the garlic. Sauté in the oil, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped green pepper. Continue to cook until everything has softened and the onion turns clear.
Add the seasonings and the can of tomato puree,vinegar and water. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and leave to simmer while you prepare the silverbeet.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the silverbeet. Cook for just a minute or two until the silverbeet has softened and wilted. Remove from the heat and drain well.
Add the cottage cheese and remaining ingredients to the cooked silverbeet, mix together until everything is well combined.
In a lasagne dish spread a thin layer of the sauce, then a fresh sheet of lasagne, then a layer of the silverbeet mixture. Continue layering until ingredients are used up, ending with a layer of the sauce.
Soften the cream cheese and spread over the top of the lasagne. Top with the grated cheese.
Bake at 180 degrees celsius for 40 minutes.
Serve with a salad.