* Chard is known by a confusing number of other names including Swiss chard, seakale beet, ruby chard, rhubarb chard, silver beet, spinach beet, crab beet and Chilean beet! You will see many of these names in seed catalogues, as well as the closely related leaf beet or perpetual spinach.
* Chard is one of the most attractive vegetables you can grow. White-stemmed varieties such as ‘Fordhook Giant’ are the most vigorous but, for appearance, try the mixture ‘Bright Lights’ which produces stems from deep red to pale pink and from pale yellow to deep orange-gold. All this colour makes it an excellent choice for containers or for brightening up ornamental areas in winter.
* You can grow chard virtually all year, and pick it as small leaves for salad, or when more mature for cooking. It’s greatest value is as a crop for late winter and early spring.
* From the cooking point of view, chard is really two vegetables in one. The broad, flat stems and midribs can be used like celery, and the dark, crinkled leaves make a hardy and easy-to-grow alternative to spinach.
* Chard is a good source of fibre, minerals including iron and magnesium, and vitamins A, C, E and K.
* Chard has been developed from the wild sea beet, Beta maritima, which is also the ancestor of beetroot, fodder beet such as mangelwurzels and sugar beet. It grows on sandy and shingle beaches in the UK, and all around the Mediterranean. Closely related wild plants include fat hen and good King Henry, which have been eaten in the past both as a green vegetable and for their nutritious seeds.
*Aristotle wrote about red chard in the 4th century BC, so coloured varieties have been around for thousands of years
* Chard is very popular in southern France and Italy. You can buy it in the shops there and it features in traditional recipes. In this country it is far less well known, and is rarely seen in greengrocers or supermarkets as it wilts too easily to stay looking nice for long. So, if you want to eat it, you really have to grow it yourself.