The Chard that Keeps on Giving
(TF garden bloggers Julia Frisbie and Linda Zielinski recently had a conversation about seed-saving they'd like to share with readers)
Linda writes: I have a chard plant that just shows up annually, hopping around from one side of a side-garden pathway to the other each year, for about 5 years now. This year it really loved the spot it chose, as it grew to be about 5 feet tall before it leaned over, full of seeds, against a new apple tree. I tend to not look for these "wandering chard plants", but sort of stumble upon them each year, after they've reached some size. This one I missed completely until I moved a large pot it was hiding behind, and there it was, already beginning to lengthen and bolt – I'd missed its nice, lots-of-edible-big-leaves time. Instead, I'd diligently planted my spring chard plants in rows in my veggie garden on the other side of the house, having planted them under a grow light and babied them along with fertilizer and watering. (I'm sure the self-starting chard, growing each year where I don't think to look, would thumb its nose at me if it had a nose!)
From YouTube, I think I understand how to harvest the seeds. Soon! I have no idea what variety it is, or which seed company it's from, maybe Uprising or Territorial. It seems to have developed to fit into the conditions on the east side of my house, getting maybe 4 hours or less of sun, with no watering except "borrowing" water from the plants nearby (apple tree, rhubarb). I call it my Yard Chard. Any words of wisdom? Hope it's a candidate for the Anacortes seed library. I do believe I'll try planting some of its seeds "on purpose" this year, with the help of a watering schedule and maybe even some fertilizer!
Julia responds: I would be absolutely THRILLED to grow "yard chard" from your seeds! I have a similar kale that returns each year to feed us and delight us with its unwieldy flower stalks. I think this is EXACTLY the type of plant that the seed library should be spreading around.
I've never harvested chard seed, but I understand that the seeds are ready when they start turning brown. Here's what works for me with my "yard kale": When most of the seed pods are light brown and crispy-feeling between my fingers, I bring a big flat sheet out into the garden and lay it under the kale plant, and then I cut down the flower/seed stalks so they fall on the sheet. Then I wad up the sheet and forget about it in my garage for a month or two. This lets the seed pods finish drying out. The chard might not need that step, since it bears its seed naked on the stalks rather than in pods, but a little benevolent neglect won't hurt.
Eventually I rediscover the wadded-up sheet full of seed pods in my garage, haul it onto my covered porch, and stomp on it. This is "threshing"! It separates the seeds from the pods. Then I pick it up by all four corners, shake it gently and stir stuff around so that the heavy seeds are gathered up in the bottom of the sheet and the lightweight chaff is at the top. That's low-tech "winnowing". I compost the chaff (or pile it under the eaves on the north side of my house as nesting material for bumblebees), and am left with a handful of seeds in the bottom of the sheet. Yes, sometimes there's some crud in it. If I were a perfectionist, I could winnow again with a fan, or screen the crud out, but I usually don't bother. I store the seeds and crud in a mason jar with a desiccant packet.
You can drop saved seed off anytime at the library! It helps us if you fill out a donation form with a little more information about how you grew it. That way we can pass the information along to other growers who might scatter "yard chard" by the shady, un-irrigated east sides of their houses!