Self-sown chard a sweet treat
Volunteers adapt to growing conditions
Dear Helen: A few years ago, I planted a multi-coloured Swiss chard. This year, the plants have staged a volunteer reappearance atop our compost heap. When the sun shone through the stems the main plant became a beautiful fluorescent red. There are also plants with white and yellow stems.
Can you explain the mystery of their return? These chard plants are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. We enjoyed them all summer simply cooked and served with butter as well as in stir-fry dishes and soups.
D.C. Swiss chard is a biennial plant, producing stems and leaves the first year and flowers and seeds the next year. Chard is fairly hardy, surviving most winters to regrow and send up seed stalks in the spring. Parsley follows the same pattern.
In your initial planting’s second year, it is possible that you put stems bearing seeds into the compost, and some of the seeds germinated in the spring.
As plants self-sow in gardens, they often evolve into strains that are particularly well adapted to a garden’s growing conditions. In your case, the chard strain has also evolved to develop a superior taste.
The plants that gave you such good eating this year should survive the winter to produce more seed for you next year; however, should severe frost threaten, it might be useful to cover them, just for the freezing period, with old, lightweight curtaining or floating row cover fabric. In one cold winter, when most gardens lost their radicchio plantings in a period of hard frost, I saved mine with three layers of floating row cover.
To perpetuate your personal strain of chard, harvest the seeds next year when they are dry and ripe, and sow them where you want new plants. I presume you’ll want to empty the compost heap at some point. If not, let the plants shed their seeds and either let the seedlings grow where they fall or transplant them to a vegetable plot or garden bed. These plants are pretty enough for growing in a flower bed. Dear Helen: This autumn, I participated in much “discussion,” within the family and also among neighbours with apple trees, over when to pick the fruit. How do you know when apples are ripe and at their best for harvesting?
G.P. This question is one I’m often asked, in my mail and also in person by friends and neighbours. The first few apples falling from the tree in late summer or autumn indicate that harvest time is either close or at hand. To test for ripeness, check to see how easily an apple or two detach from the tree. Lift the fruit slightly and twist gently to one side. Ripe apples detach easily, without any tugging. As a further check, cut an apple in half. Black seeds indicate ripeness. Dear Helen: Last month I noticed mushrooms growing in an evergreen garden and at a sidewalk edge. How do I get rid of them?
C.W. Various kinds of mushroom commonly pop up in gardens after a rain. When the autumn rains begin, mushrooms often appear.
Mushrooms become a real nuisance mainly in shaded areas and in soils that hold high moisture levels and that are rich in organic matter. They often appear where manures and/or wood chips have been used. Remedies include improving soil drainage and aerating with light cultivation. Removing low-hanging limbs of trees and shrubs helps to let in more light and improve air circulation.
To prevent spores developing and spreading more mushrooms around, rake or knock them down as soon as you see them.
Holiday wreaths. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering Wreath Making workshops from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1 to 3 p.m. on the following dates: Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 25 and 26, and Dec. 2 and 3, 9 and 10. Linda Petite, HCP head gardener, and Finlay Nicolson, instructor at the centre’s college, will show participants how to create beautiful Christmas wreaths using evergreens, berries, cones and bows. These wreaths will look good on a front door through the festive season. Cost to HCP members $40, others $50. These workshops fill up quickly. To register call 250-479-6162. hcp.ca. Bring garden gloves and secateurs.
Self-sown Swiss chard appeared in a Nanoose Bay garden’s compost heap to yield a long season of beautiful, extra-sweet stems and leaves.
This self-sown chard was the sweetest the gardener had ever tasted.