Sunday, 26 September 2010

Silver beet

Silver beet is always available in my garden.  It is one of those plants that seems to grow well, against all odds,  doesn't mind the clay soil and even more, doesn't mind the alkaline pH here.  Not only does silver beet seem to grow well under a variety of conditions,  but it seems to be able to hang in there as seasons change with some kind of food available all the time.
In other places,  silver beet is called "Swiss chard"  or just "chard" and to me this indicates the different importance given to the different parts of the plant in other places.  It is worth looking at this very ordinary vegetable again.
Silver beet self seeds in my yard,  but I do collect seeds so that I can plant them where I want to... and also to give them away to anyone who would like to try growing some food.
The seeds are quite large and easy to manage, easy to germinate and not terribly fragile as tiny plants.... I  give them away in small plastic bags....
... and I replace any that don't work.
The tiny plants seem quite hardy too... and not susceptible to many insect attacks...

The plants produce two different parts that are edible.  (Beetroot is like this also...  one can eat the sweet root of the plant... or the spinach-like leaves.)  Silver beet produces the green leafy part and the "chards" (leaf stalks.)
The leaf stalks can be quite large... up to 5cm wide on some plants.....
and here....

But I still have some that are smaller....
It turns out that the wider stalks and healthy plants are produced when I added boron to the soil.  As I have said previously,  Australian soils are old and many of the nutrients have leached out after millions of years of rain and weathering.  Apparently boron is in short supply in my back yard.  The addition of a soluble mineral supplement has changed the proportions of the leaves to those shown in the first two pictures.  The different colours of the stalks don't seem to have any influence on the way that the plants grow... and having had a packet of "five-colour-mix silver beet" some years ago,  I now have random colour plants all over the place.
But boron clearly makes a big difference.  It also seems to influence other root vegetables and celery stalks from my observations.

Cooking silver beet is easy and varied....  let me count the ways....

  1. In the same way as spinach, the green leafy parts can substitute for any "spinach" recipes... in pastry with feta, in creamy dips (the kind that are served in a fat cob loaf.)
  2. steamed, with butter...  minimal salt.
  3. the green leafy parts can be the last addition to a stir fry 
  4. the tiniest leaves can be added to a salad.
  5. the stalks can be cut like celery and added to soup
  6. "julienned" stalks can be cooked in oil and garlic... though you don't need to add much salt (the stalks always seem to taste just a little bit salty anyway)
  7. Chunky pieces of stalks (chards) are also good in stir fried food....  added at a different time (later) than the green leafy bits.
  8. Cook chunky stalks (chopped roughly) with tomatoes and herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and garlic for a pasta sauce.
The fact that silver beet seems to survive all kinds of weather conditions means that there is always something to eat out there in the garden and what we can't manage to finish off,  the chickens are able to turn into eggs for us.

1 comment:

Ali said...

Thanks for that info on the boron Jane, I have wondered why some areas of my garden grow silverbeet with massive stalks and others grow thin ones, even though the plants were all from the same seeds, and the leaves were all the same....perhaps the soil must have varying levels of boron. Lovely pictures too.