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One of the most popular plants we sell (and grow) would have to be Silverbeet. It produces pretty much year round (if given ideal conditions), and each plant provides you with many, many leaves over its life. Plants will often live for two years, so they are certainly good value! If you ever have a surplus, chooks LOVE them – so they are useful, practical plants to include in your garden.
There are several varieties of silverbeet - Foodhook Giant being one of the most popular, with its dark green, large curly leaves that produce reliably. Other interesting variations are the chards - Rainbow Chard (sold usually in mixed punnets or seeds which produce plants with either yellow, orange or pink stems), Ruby Chard (darker green leaves with striking red stems and veins), Golden Chard (yellow stems/veins). These varieties add colour and interest to your winter garden, and can easily be grown for their pure ornamental value; with the added benefit of being edible!
Silverbeet is distantly related to spinach, but is more closely related to beetroot. Silverbeet tends to be easier to grow than spinach, particularly in warmer weather. Provided you care for silverbeet (with adequate shelter in the hottest months and water), it can grow and produce year round in Perth. If it is stressed, leaves will be smaller and it will begin to go to seed. Silverbeet can successfully be grown in pots and planter bags too - so perfect for balconies or rentals.
Young leaves can be used in salads, or else the vegetable can be lightly steamed or added to a stir fry. While normally the coarse stems are discarded, all parts of the plant are edible.Of course, snails, slugs and caterpillars (in particular) find them tasty too – so you do need to monitor pests at certain times of year.
And they are relatively disease free – although you can get some fungal problems in spring, namely Cercospora leaf spot (Cercospora beticola Sacc.) - see photo.
It produces light grey spots with brown margins on the older leaves. These spots fall out and create ‘shot holes’ in the leaves.
The disease is favoured by warmer temperatures (over 24°), high humidity or long periods of leaf wetness. It can come from infected seed, diseased crop trash and diseased host crops or weeds growing near the silver beet.
[I have noticed the Vegie bags we planted with Rainbow Chard for Garden Week are showing signs of this disease. For effect, we deliberately crowded these plants and ensured they were well fertilised to have lots of lush leaf growth. Add to this diligent overhead watering and there is the recipe for perfect fungal conditions! Interesting to note it is only over the last two weeks now that the spots have emerged - my theory is leaves are staying wetter for longer, now that the plants are not in full sun and daytime temperatures are lower. - May 2013]
Not necessarily disastrous (especially to home growers) this disease is best controlled by removing and destroying infected leaves (or plants, if it is very widely spread), and by spraying with a natural fungicide like garlic. A seaweed tonic may be useful too.
It can develop within 14 days of infection under ideal conditions. The spores are spread by water droplets, wind or insects onto the younger leaves or nearby plants.
Crop rotation is one of the best ways to avoid problems in subsequent crops. Do not plant silver beet near older crops with the disease. Avoid growing silver beet on the same land more than once every three years. Keep weeds away which may act as disease hosts. (Pigweed/portulaca is one of the main host culprits.)
Eating leaves which have a few spots will do you no harm.
Once the weather conditions change, and providing the plant is otherwise healthy and actively growing, you may well find the disease symptoms ‘disappear’ and new growth is lovely and healthy.
If you find yourself with an excess of silverbeet, it can be lightly cooked then frozen for later use.
In our very first newsletter, we featured a recipe for Spinach/Silverbeet Pie - a firm family favourite in our house. Here it is:
If you are still living on Silverbeet from your garden (I find it is one of the staples that keeps going through that ‘lean’ time when everything else is still too small to be producing, but winter vegies are almost done) – you might like to try this brilliant recipe for Silverbeet Pie.
Resources for Growing Organic Veggies & Herbs: