Valley Bounty: Swiss chard

The Swiss chard harvest recently began on Bardwell Farm in Hatfield. It was nearly three weeks later than usual. “Last year, we had a nice warm start to the season where crops were on-time or early. This season, we’re coming in with conditions that have been colder and wetter,” Harrison Bardwell, who owns the farm, told me during a recent conversation.

“Being a beginning farmer, I’m still learning a lot of the aspects of how to deal with different weather conditions year to year,” Bardwell explained. Although Bardwell gardened with his grandfather, a lifelong farmer, for years before taking the plunge into farming full-time in 2016, he still has many lessons to learn. With an almost overwhelmingly wide world of information out there, Bardwell does his best to take it as it comes. “I base a lot of stuff in the moment … when we’ve been dealing with really cold weather, I start looking for what we can do to address that. I do my own research to start. Then I’ll ask other experienced farmers in the area or talk to UMass Extension.” Pushing through this year’s cold spell is already shaping Bardwell’s thinking about new investments for the farm. For example, he’s beginning to think that purchasing row covers to create a warmer environment for early plantings of crops like Swiss chard will be well worth it for future seasons.

Despite the slow start, Bardwell reported that minimal disease and pest pressure have ushered in a great looking Swiss chard crop. Several times each week, Bardwell and his team will scour the chard beds, snapping off lush leaves from the outside of the plant, leaving the young growth in the crown to continue maturing for a future harvest. “The cool thing about chard is that it will continue producing as long as you don’t kill the plant.” Bardwell can often harvest the same plant ten or more times over several weeks!

Now that the weather has warmed up, local Swiss chard will be available across the Valley all the way through till the end of October. Bardwell recommends using chopped chard in a summer-veggie sauté. He often tosses in chard along with summer squash, spinach, and garlic. Keep an eye out for one of those distinct multi-colored bunches of chard at your neighborhood farmers’ market or farm stand and experiment to develop your own favorite summer veggie mix.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)