South Taranaki Star
How to grow silverbeet
Hands down the easiest crop to grow, this stalwart of the Kiwi kitchen garden is an excellent culinary replacement for its fussy cousin spinach and a great cut-andcome-again crop for adding to lasagnes, omelettes and stir-fries.
SOW AND GROW
Sow seeds: All year round in all areas.
Transplant seedlings: All year round in all areas.
Position: Full sun, six or more hours a day.
Harvest: 12 weeks from seed.
Good for pots and good for beginners.
Silverbeet can be planted almost yearround across the whole country. You can sow it direct for most of the year, too, but during the winter months start in damp seed-raising mix in seed trays or jiffy pots undercover (unless you live in the far north, where you can sow this crop direct all year round).
Sow each seed 2-3 centimetres deep and about 5cm apart. Thin to 40cm once plants have germinated, in 10-14 days. You can eat the seedlings as salad greens. Once the seedlings are up, give them a boost with liquid fertiliser diluted in tepid water. Silverbeet is easy to grow from seed, but generally speaking, a punnet of six plants is more than enough silverbeet for an average-sized household. If you are planting seedlings, space plants 40cm apart and rows 60cm apart.
Silverbeet grows best in a sunny spot with well-drained soil but can cope with a little shade. Prepare the soil with compost and sheep pellets before planting.
To harvest, twist and pull the individual outer stalks, leaving the emerging centres to grow. Don’t cut the stems when harvesting, because this leaves a stumpy bit of stem that will rot back into the crown.
You can also sow silverbeet thickly in containers or buckets with drainage holes drilled in them and treat it as a baby salad green for the first six weeks or so, just snipping off leaves at the microgreen stage and adding it to salads.
Silverbeet can cope well in the garden without extra watering but if growing it in pots, be sure to water it regularly. Fortnightly feeds of liquid fertiliser will also boost growth.
As a biennial, silverbeet flowers and sets seed in its second year. Snap the main stalk off, and it will send up a secondary crop of new shoots or leave the plants to self-seed.
Fat-stalked ‘‘Fordhook Giant’’ is the classic silverbeet with dark green leaves and white stems. Dwarf variety ‘‘Compact Deep Green’’ is a shorter-stemmed variety, making it good for pots. ‘‘Rainbow Lights’’ has brightly coloured stems in shades of flamingo pink, raspberry red, saffron yellow and orange, and is particularly striking in the garden or choose pretty ‘‘Peppermint’’ with pinkand-white stems. Crimson-stemmed
‘‘Ruby Chard’’ and ‘Cardinal’’ are the perfect colour match against crimson-flowering ‘‘Hughey’’ broad beans, plus ‘‘Cardinal’’ also has good resistance to fungal disease. So-called perpetual spinach is related to silverbeet, although it usually has smaller leaves and thinner stems than most varieties.
If you can find a silverbeet plant without a snail hiding in the leaves, it must be an artificial plant. Remove slugs and snails by hand and wash leaves carefully after harvesting.
Young seedlings are particularly vulnerable to slugs and snails after a prolonged wet period or in spring, so consider protecting new plants with cloches.
Older plants are more likely to succumb to fungal leaf spots (cercospora) but this doesn’t diminish their culinary value. You can avoid this by growing silverbeet in full sun and keeping plants evenly watered. Disease is transferred by rain and watering, so avoid watering in the evening and splashing the leaves.
Silverbeet and beetroot are actually the same species, Beta vulgaris. Over time, Beta vulgaris plants were selected and bred for different qualities such as root or leaf size. Other Beta vulgaris species include the sugar beet, from which around 20 per cent of the world’s sugar is harvested, and the mangel wurzel, a fodder crop for livestock.