Rainbow Chard, (or Five Coloured Silverbeet) is one of the poster boys for the heirloom vegie movement. The plant is among the most decorative of all vegies, pretty enough to plant in a flower garden, yet a prolific producer of stems in saturated tones of red, orange, pink, yellow and white. The stems are topped with deep green leaves traced with exotically coloured veins.
The French have been growing rainbow chard since the 1850's, and the famous vegetable seed supplier Vilmorin listed it in their 1888 catalogue. But for whatever reason, the plant almost died out when farmers selected just the white stemmed variety and ignored the rest. The Diggers Club rescued it a decade ago, and subsequently exported the seed to the US. Five coloured silverbeet is now grown all over the world. It is brilliant in courtyards, school gardens and pots, and is a market gardener's dream.
Silverbeet, chard, whatever you call it, is basically a beetroot without a swollen root, and should be grown in the same way. I improve the soil with some compost and pelletised chook manure a couple of weeks before planting, then generally start the chard plants from seed. This is excellent value for money, as each seed is actually a corky membrane that contains a cluster of three individual seeds. So you get three plants for the price of one.
Once they're up and growing, which takes about 7 days, you can thin out and transplant any excess plants to fill in gaps, or wait a few weeks longer and eat the thinnings as a microgreen. Allow about 20cm between plants so they have space to mature. And to really up the value stakes, the older leaves will be relished by your backyard chooks as the plants age.
Rainbow chard is also beautiful thrown into a risotto. Simply shred the leaves reasonably finely, toss them in five minutes before serving and let them wilt down. Don't ignore the stems. They can be finely chopped as well to give the risotto a burst of autumn colour. Rainbow chard is a stunner!
By: Justin Russell
First published: March 2013