Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chard in my front yard

My mountain boy husband has an aversion to vegetables growing in the front flower bed. Maybe he thinks it smacks of desperation. I, on the other hand, have a difficult time wasting perfectly good soil on plants that won’t have a place at our supper table. It’s probably just my tightwad nature (I prefer to call my nature “prudent”) but I don’t mind when visitors notice blooming, yellow squash nestled next to red geraniums or twining, Kentucky Blue pole beans crawling the banister as they walk up to our house. I often favor a full stomach over beauty. That’s why I mixed just a couple of small Swiss chard seeds among the marigolds last spring. I thought that the loveliness of the deep green, crinkley leaves, offset by multicolored stems, would be perfect (and non distinguishable for what they really were) in the front flower bed. The front bed had soil that my oldest son had recently baptized with lots of fresh leavings from the meat rabbits. (Thank goodness fresh bunny poo has very little odor or my mountain boy might have had a melt down. He’s funny about manure smells at the front door.) Since it was early April and the mornings still somewhat frosty, I had a HUGE hunger for everything green and fresh from the garden. Swiss chard seemed the best option.

Botanically, chard is in the beet family though it has an undeveloped root. It has edible dark green leaves packed with vitamins especially Folic Acid which research has shown prevents birth defects. It is very easy to grow; much easier than spinach, in my opinion. Chard is hardy against spring or early summer frosts and does not “bolt” in the summer heat. The leaves can be harvested at several inches tall, eaten raw on sandwiches or in salads like spinach. I have also waited until the plant has matured and harvested both the leaves and stalk using the stalk in recipes like celery. The stalks tend to be “earthy” in taste after about 8-10 inches tall and I’ll have to admit that my kids would prefer not to eat peanut butter and raisins on long, Swiss chard stalks. But every other recipe that includes spinach can be modified to use Swiss chard as a substitute. My family loves the tender young leaves boiled in water then mixed into mashed potatoes. Chard can also be boiled and frozen into little, green globs that can then be thawed and used throughout the winter in soups or other cooked-spinach type recipes.

About forty-five days after I planted the vegetable seeds with the flowers, pretty little orange and yellow marigolds were being eclipsed by the shiny, green leaves of the chard. The bunny manure had done its job well and the chard was beautiful. I admired the display every time I walked by the front door flower bed. Though we had eaten heavily from the leaves, the plant dutifully replaced what we had eaten. In an effort to keep the plant smallish, we had been eating chard in everything: Swiss chard in eggs, chard in fried potatoes, chard and onion dip, chard and carrots, chard in salads, chard muffins, and chard pancakes. The kids were chard-ed out. But the plant had grown to twice its normal size.......... as if eating the leaves encouraged an even greater growth. The plant was positively robust! We couldn’t keep up with it! I was worried because, as yet, its existence had gone unnoticed by my husband. Not that I was keeping its location a secret. I couldn’t. It was too big! Even one of our neighbors questioned the plant, "what is that plant? Rhubarb? I've never seen such a plant in anyone's front flower beds."

Finally, the day came when I heard the inevitable, mountain boy mumble from behind the morning newspaper, “Is that Swiss chard in the front flower bed? I thought we agreed we weren’t going to grow vegetables in the front?” I was actually relieved. With its discovery, the kids and I could stop eating chard like crazy people.

Three weeks later I carefully dug the plant up (it was a BIG daddy of a plant) and entered it in our local county fair. It won the grand prize for Swiss chard! I was very proud. So I guess the front flower bed was the best place for growing a grand champion Swiss chard plant after all. And all that bunny poo didn't hurt either. But I’ll grow chard in the back garden from now on to appease my spouse. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to sneak a small pile of lettuce seeds in with the front flower bed marigolds the next time. Hmmmmm. What’s that smell……..the faint odor of bunny poo coming from the front yard?

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