Self-sown chard a sweet treat

Vol­un­teers adapt to grow­ing con­di­tions

Times Colonist - - Homes - HE­LEN CHESNUT Gar­den Notes

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.

Gar­den Events

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.

DEB COLLING­WOOD

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.

DEB COLLING­WOOD

This self-sown chard was the sweet­est the gar­dener had ever tasted.

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