Eradicating Swiss Chard & Other Noxious Weeds
by John Hershey
by John Hershey

John Hershey is a dad, gardener, writer, and lawyer (in that order). He lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and two young sons.

John's humorous essays on gardening appear in many newspapers and magazines, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, GreenPrints, and Warm Earth (Australia).

December 12, 2004

I enjoy working in the garden, but we have seasons for a reason. Like the soil itself, gardeners need time to rest and rejuvenate. By this time of year, "gardening" should consist of sitting by a crackling fire with a cup of tea, lazily thumbing through seed catalogs and musing about what to plant in the spring.

But I can't get to that point. I'm ready to lie fallow for a few months, yet I'm still spending all my free time in the garden. Will someone please tell my Swiss chard that the growing season is over?

Last spring, I planted a huge patch of chard. Lacking confidence as a gardener, I tend to plant more seeds than necessary in hopes that some will sprout. Sure enough, my garden produced only a few puny carrots, and my tomatoes were all vine and no fruit. But of course, chard will grow even for me, so now we are inundated. All through the summer and fall, we had some for dinner every night. Our freezer is so crammed with ziplocked chard that there is no room for other perishables like ice cream, forcing me to eat the entire litre while standing at the kitchen counter.

Now winter is here, and still the chard grows. Not even frost can kill this stuff.

I can't just abandon it out there. I planted it, I nurtured the seedlings, I watched proudly as it grew tall and strong. I'm responsible for this chard.

And Swiss chard is one of the healthiest vegetables you can grow. If I let all that nutritious food go to waste instead of providing it to my family, how could I live with the guilt? So I bundle up and head out every day to water, weed, and harvest a bunch of leaves.

When I'm not tending my patch or cooking the chard, I'm on the internet, downloading recipes in a losing battle to cope with the endless supply.

Like a noxious weed, the Swiss chard is spreading beyond the garden and taking over my life. It's even affecting my parenting style. I used to be a fun, playful dad. Chard is turning me into a taskmaster. I announce sternly to my children: As long as you live under my roof, you must obey my rules! But I haven't really thought of any rules yet, except this one: Everyone who lives in this house must eat a serving of Swiss chard at least three times per day!

I'm frantically learning ways to prepare it. You can stir fry it over rice, saute it with tofu, use it instead of spinach in lasagna. But that's amateur hour. To have a shot at using all the chard you grow, you have to get creative.

For instance, chard leaves can be concealed with substances like peanut butter. With any luck, your child will not notice the suspicious texture of the sandwich until it's too late. "It's extra crunchy!" you say reassuringly.

One popular use of chard is to wrap things in it as you would with cabbage or grape leaves. For the grownups, make some Greek-style chard dolmas. And for the kids, well, nothing combines the nutrition they need with the flavor they love like a Twinkie wrapped in a chard leaf. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside!

If you have a food processor, you can sneak chard into anything. To illustrate, here's a typical scene at the breakfast table in my house:

Child: Daddy, why is my oatmeal green?
Me: It's St. Patrick's Day.
Child: But that's what you said yesterday about the green pancakes.
Me: Just eat!

Ultimately, these efforts are doomed to fail. You cannot eat all the chard yourself. You must try to give it away. You could make festive chard wreaths for the holidays. Here's a fun stocking stuffer idea: on Christmas morning, pick a bunch of bright green chard and tie it with a cheery red ribbon.

But Swiss chard is an acquired taste. Some of your friends and relatives may actually think it's an inappropriate holiday gift. These snobs often refer to Swiss chard derisively by its unfortunate scientific name: Beta vulgaris. If they don't appreciate your gift, ask them: "How can you not like chard? It's so healthy, so full of antioxidants! What are you, pro-oxidant?"

Fortunately, I have discovered the ultimate use for chard: compost material.

Every gardener knows you need green stuff in the compost pile to provide nitrogen. But where do I get it this time of year? Everything else is brown.

My overabundance of Swiss chard is the perfect source. I'll chop it up and toss it in the pile, and next spring it will be rich, fertile compost that I can use to improve my soil and grow even more ... Swiss chard.

Why not? It's my most successful crop!


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