Friday, January 29, 2016

End of Season Review - Swiss Chard & Spinach


Swiss Chard


This year, the chard did ok – not a huge success, but not a failure either.  The plan was to grow two new varieties to join my standard Fordhook Giant:  Peppermint and Bright Lights.

Peppermint & Fordhook Giant Chard

The Peppermint chard does NOT taste like peppermint, a question I often get asked.  But it is very pretty and the flavor is nice and mild.

Bright Lights looks lovely too…on the packet.  Unfortunately, I was not able to get this variety off the ground.  In the spring all of the seedlings succumbed to damping off and then my fall planting just sat there, doing nothing until I finally pulled them up.




The Fordhook Giant pulled in an impressive harvest, as it does every year and Peppermint’s yield was quite respectable too.

We had a mild, extended fall last year and I may have been able to enjoy a few more harvests were it not for the black aphids – by early October, the central buds of each plant were literally covered.  Not much to do at that point but pull them all up.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

Even with the Bright Lights failure and late season aphids, I still had a pretty good harvest, so I’m happy overall.

This coming season, not much will change when it comes to the chard.  Timing, spacing and quantity will remain unchanged from my 2015 plan (which had been to grow 11 plants in a 3’ x 3’ spot, had those spring sown seedlings not succumbed).  I’ll be growing the same 3 varieties & hopefully have better luck with Bright Lights.


Spinach


In the past, I have had germination issues with the spinach, which prompted me to try a couple of different strategies this past spring.  I found that pre-germinating the seeds in the moderate temps of the basement (where it is usually around 18C/64F) produced the best results.

Spinach Seedlings
What I also found is that difficulty germinating spinach can have just as much to do with the variety and/or seed as with the conditions.  My newly purchased Viroflay seed (from Pinetree) was much easier to germinate than the same variety purchased from Baker Creek the previous year.  This year, the laggard was Renegade – it took much longer to germinate than the other 4 varieties.

In my quest for a half-decent spinach harvest, I also tried a couple of different sowing strategies – sowing the seeds indoors and transplanting vs. sowing pre-germinated seeds directly in the bed.

Some of the seedlings took a looooong time to get going
These are 7 week old Renegade seedlings grown from transplants
Daphne had previously noted that direct seeding produced better results for her, likely because spinach has an unexpectedly long taproot, which was indeed the case when I pulled them up.

My transplant vs. direct seeding experiment didn’t exactly pan out as, in the rush of the season, I failed to keep track of which seedlings were which.  However, I did find direct seeding much easier to do and all of the spinach did much better this year than last – I think I’ll be using that method from now on.

I grew 5 different varieties of spinach this year – Renegade, Tyee, Galilee, Space and Viroflay.

Tyee (left) and Viroflay (right)

I was quite happy with all of the varieties except for Galilee, which once again bolted after producing only a handful of leaves.

Galilee

In terms of taste, I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison, but they all tasted good to me.  Tyee had the thickest leaves of the bunch while the others were more delicate and especially well-suited for fresh eating.

Renegade (left) & Space (right)




I sowed some Giant Winter Vortex spinach in September, but many of the seedlings either didn’t come up or were there one day, gone the next (slugs/sowbugs/earwigs – who knows?).  In the end, I think there were only 4 or 5 seedlings left.

Giant Winter Vortex seedlings
These were given a covering of straw once the weather got colder in November & we shall see if they make it through until spring.


Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

Although I many not have harvested what seasoned spinach growers would consider to be a large amount, I was quite satisfied with my results this year.  Up until now, my largest spinach yield had been a measly 82 grams (0.18 lb) per sq. foot, so this year was a definite improvement - it's all relative, right?

This coming season, I’ll be pre-germinating & sowing the seeds directly outdoors instead of growing transplants. As for varieties, I’ll be dropping Galilee but keeping all of the others.  And, just because I often can't help myself when it comes to these things, I’ll be adding a couple of new varieties to the mix as well.  Which ones, you ask?  You'll have to wait for my Seed Order post to find out!

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

16 comments:

  1. Chard is my favorite vegetable. Used to be it wasn't very good from the store, so I raised it myself if nothing else. Best I've tasted is 'Italian Silver Rib' from Renee's Garden. Very vigorous, not at all wimpy like 'Bright Lights' and 'Peppermint Stick'. Looked over the fence today and saw that my neighbor's four year old red chard plant is producing some very healthy leaves. Makes a great side dish cooked with rice. Yum yum.

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    1. It's too bad I didn't know about Italian Silver Rib last year when I ordered a bunch of seeds from Renee's. I'll have to make a note for the next time I order from them.

      I'm quite surprised that chard can carry on for that long - I would have thought that it would have bolted long ago.

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  2. These are the only vegetables that I don't really like. This is probably why I have a hungry gap In May. I can eat them when very small in salads but that is about it.

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    1. I think that most people, even those of us who adore vegetables in general, have one or two veg that they just don't like. For me, it's beets...just can't get myself to enjoy those.

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  3. Margaret-you're making me wish for spring with those spinach pics!!
    I think the main thing with spinach is FRESH SEED---it's crucial! And also, sow heavily.
    I don't have germination problems but I have a terrible time with early spinach. The culprit---pill bugs. They'll work their way down a row methodically. And they're so tough to get--they hide very well. I'll lose two or three rows of them (and Mokums---SOB!!!!!) every spring. Horrible to wait all winter for those goodies and then those little snits get them first!
    Next year will be better.
    Ha.
    Enjoy the weekend

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    1. I've actually not thought of those pill bugs as culprits until this past year when other bloggers mentioned having issues with them - up until now, I thought they were pretty inocuous. Now I'll have to keep a much better eye out for them. Mark mentioned (in my Bean review post) that he uses nematodes to successfuly control them, so that may be worth a try in your carrot/spinach patch.

      And I have no doubt next season will be our best gardening year ever :) Have a wonderful weekend too!

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  4. The Peppermint Chard looks almost like Rhubarb! Chard I can grow; it seems to do well with only the minimum of care and attention, but spinach is another story. I have never managed to get a decent crop, because it always bolts. I've tried it in the raised beds and I've tried it in containers of compost, but nothing seems to work. It's probably an omen, because my wife dislikes it and therefore if (when) it fails I tend to grow other things instead!

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    1. That's so funny! Spinach is an odd duck, isn't it - so many people don't seem to like it for some reason. Now I understand why they felt the need to develop a cartoon character who's main purpose was to encourage kids to eat their spinach!

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  5. I hope you manage to get your Bright Lights growing this year, not just for the harvest but they really do brighten up the vegetable beds too, they're so pretty. I stopped growing chard the last few years and no one was very keen on it, though I thought it was ok. I'm a fan of spinach but again, I didn't grow it because no one else likes it.

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    1. I've seen Bright Lights growing in so many veg gardens - well, online anyhow - and was so excited to grow some myself. Quite the dissappointment when they didn't amount to anything. But winter washes the slate clean and gives us a fresh start each year, so I'm looking forward to giving it another try.

      There are a few veg where I'm the only one in the family that enjoys it such as radishes and winter squash so I usually relegade those to my lunches where mine is the only palate that counts!

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  6. Every year in the garden offers a learning experience, I don't care how long you've been gardening, there's always something new to learn. This fall I tried setting out my spinach starts under gallon water bottle cloches and I learned 2 things - a) the cloches work great for protecting the seedlings from the sow bugs, no losses and only one nibble, b) the cloches provided enough protection that I actually got away with a late planting for winter harvests (sown Oct. 20!). I've settled on starting spinach in paper pots as the best method for me, but you've got me thinking of trying pregerminating and sowing the seeds directly in the garden and protecting them with the cloches to get them started. Like I said, always something new to learn!

    Oh yuck, I get those aphids on my chard also and the problem gets worse when the ants start to "farm" them. Sometimes I can rescue them by stripping nearly all the leaves off and treating what's left with insecticidal soap or Pyganic (pyrethrum based). But if the ants keep bringing back the aphids then I have to pull them out.

    I'll second the recommendation for Italian Silver Rib, it is a tasty variety.

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    1. Definitely always something new to learn - I'm still on the steep end of the curve but enjoying every minute of it!

      I didn't really try anything to get rid of the aphids as it was so late in the season; hopefully they don't start showing up sooner! I'll have to remember your remedies if they do.

      And I had noticed your water bottle cloches and how amazingly well you spinach did. My first thought was ... what an awesome idea! My next thought was...dang - I threw out a bunch of those a couple of years ago when we used to have a water cooler :( Figures.

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  7. I've tried a lot of different strategies with spinach too and lately I have settled on starting indoors in plug flats and then setting out when they are still small. I've not tried the pregerminating trick, but sowing outside in fall never works for me as it is always too hot, too dry, etc. Plus I get much better germination indoors. I'll do the same thing for a spring crop too here shortly.

    As for chard, I wish I liked the taste but it's one of my least favorite greens. I'd rather have kale, or turnips greens, or tatsoi, etc.

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    1. Sooo..basically you like ANY green except for chard ;)

      It's actually sort of strange that I like chard considering it's close relationship to beets, which is one of the few veg that I will always forgo. Daphne previously said that some chard has a beety flavour, but I have yet to encounter one that I don't like.

      I generally prefer doing transplants as well, but for some reason, my luck with spinach transplants just hasn't been that great. And now with growing so many more different things, if I can create some space under the grow lights, it's a good thing!

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  8. I have been off bloggers for several ......weeks.......... nothing bad just busy busy busy.... so I have no doubt missed some post.
    I have not had a lot of luck with spinach myself. I do not know what the key is to the spinach lol. I have tried pot and ground and not had super good luck on either.
    Swiss Chard on the other hand I seem to have very good luck with! I have started swiss chard in pots and in the ground. I think the pot version is a tiny bit better germination. But I have had good germination in the ground as well. If I pamper Swiss Chard with a bit of shade and extra water I can keep it going through our summer!

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    1. It's funny how we are in such different climates, yet our challenges are so often the same! Even though the spinach harvest was better this year than in the past, it's still nowhere near enough what we need - but Swiss Chard often fills in the gap quite successfully. I've been known to use it in dishes such as "spinach" dip and no one is the wiser!

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