I hope every Brevard resident grows at least one thing they can eat, even those who don’t have a yard.

Herbs and some vegetable plants are easy to grow in containers. We’re at the beginning of the vegetable growing season, which started in August, and the plant I recommend everyone grow this winter and all summer long is Swiss chard.

Swiss chard has the longest growing season, lasting nine months from September through May. Also known as chard, leaf beet, or spinach beet.

Swiss chard lacks a fleshy root like beet production, and bears large, glossy leaves on fleshy leaf stalks that can vary in color, depending on the variety. Chard is commonly found in gardens throughout Florida as a winter vegetable and as a summer cooking green, because it tolerates heat well.

Swiss chard can be sown directly into the garden or grown as a transplant. Plants should be planted six to 12 inches apart, and leaves can be harvested 45-60 days after sowing seeds.

This is a vegetable that can be grown anywhere: in a container, in a vegetable garden, or in the landscape as an ornamental plant. One popular species is Bright Lights, which produces brightly colored foliage (yellow, orange, pink, purple, red and white). They are very ornamental and can be used to brighten any landscape. There’s also rhubarb, which produces red leaves, and the traditional green-leaved varieties Lucullus and Fordhook Giant.

If chard doesn’t sound appealing, many herbs can be planted now too. Some plants I’ve seen for sale locally are mint (including my favorite chocolate mint), fennel, dill, thyme, and marjoram. Choosing an edible plant that you enjoy eating will be great to grow if you are ready for a new project.

Vegetables can be grown in different ways, from the ground, raised beds, containers (including hanging baskets) and hydroponics. Regardless of which of these methods you choose, ample light and water are needed for good growth and fruit production.

For vegetable plants that produce fruit (such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers), be sure to choose a location that receives full sun, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Vegetables grown for their leaves (such as chard, spinach, lettuce, and kale) can be grown in full sun or partial shade.

Bright Lights Swiss chard will produce the most colorful foliage when planted in sunny locations. Sufficient water will also be needed for optimal plant growth.

If you are planting chard in the ground, choose a good location near your home and a water source to increase your chances of a successful harvest. There’s a saying: “The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shade,” so a location close to home may increase the frequency of plant visits.

For those interested in growing vegetables in containers, here are some things to consider.

  • Choose a container with good drainage and a fast-draining soil mix.
  • Also make sure there is a tray under the container to assist when watering.
  • It is better to let the potting mixture dry out a little rather than keep it too wet. If you allow the potting media to dry out a little, or perhaps too much (as I tend to do), the tray will be there to hold the water and allow both the potting mix and the plant to absorb it.

When it comes to growing vegetables in the ground, proper soil preparation is important. Our sandy soil will support a healthy soil food web necessary to produce healthy plants if there are desirable plants, which are everything except weeds, that grow there to supply the soil food web with root exudates.

Existing plants, whether in the ground or in containers, can be inoculated using a liquid product as a soil drench. When planting new vegetables, be sure to modify the planting hole with some worm castings as well.

Although Swiss chard does not form a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi, most plants do, so using a liquid inoculant product that contains beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi will still be beneficial. To protect soil microbes, reduce any soil disturbance (e.g. tillage, etc.) to a minimum after establishing the soil food web.

When planting is complete, apply mulch (i.e. brown leaves and small pine bark nuggets) to cover and protect the soil.

When growing vegetables in Florida, it is important to plant different crops at the right time of year. That’s why vegetable gardening here is different from the other 47 contiguous states. The good news is that this is the easiest part that you can correct once you have a copy of the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, which can be found at edis.ifas.ufl.edu (search for “vegetable gardening guide”).

Starting on page six there is a chart listing each crop and the months it should be grown in North, Central and South Florida.

If you’ve never grown edible plants before, or haven’t grown them for a while, why not start growing some Swiss chard or herbs now? If you don’t have all the supplies, such as a container, potting mix and seeds or transplant, visit your nearest garden center today. There’s nothing like harvesting food straight from the plant and preparing it right away. You will be able to enjoy delicious food and maximum nutrition.

We hope you’ll be intrigued by growing Swiss chard, so when fall comes, you’ll want to grow more vegetables.

Sally Scalera is the Urban Horticulturist and Principal Horticulture Coordinator at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. Send her an email at sasc@ufl.edu.

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