Silverbeet: growing advice and variety guide

Hands down the easiest crop to grow, this stalwart of the Kiwi kitchen garden is an excellent culinary replacement for its fussy cousin spinach and a great cut-and-come-again crop for adding to lasagnes, omelettes and stir-fries.

Sow and grow

  • Sow seeds: All year round in all areas
  • Transplant seedlings: All year round in all areas
  • Position: Full sun, six or more hours a day
  • Harvest: 12 weeks from seed
  • Good for pots
  • Good for beginners

Get started

Silverbeet can be planted almost all year round across the entire country. You can sow it direct for most of the year too, but in the winter months start in damp seed-raising mix in seed trays or jiffy pots undercover (unless you live in the far north where you can sow this crop direct all year round) .

READ MORE:
* How to grow spinach
* How to grow coriander
* NZ Gardener trial: The best radish varieties to grow

Step-by-step

  • Sow each seed 2-3cm deep and about 5cm apart.
  • Thin to 40cm once plants have germinated in 10-14 days. You can eat the seedlings as salad greens.
  • Once the seedlings are up, give them a boost with liquid fertilizer diluted in tepid water.
  • Silverbeet is easy to grow from seed, but generally speaking, a punnet of six plants is more than enough silverbeet for an average-sized household. If you are planting seedlings, space plants 40cm apart and rows 60cm apart.
Harvest leafy greens by twisting and pulling off the individual outer (fatter) stalks, leaving the emerging (skinny) center leaves to grow, rather than chopping or uprooting the entire plant at once.  By harvesting leaf by leaf, silverbeet, spinach and Swiss chard will keep cropping for at least 12 months.  Don't cut to harvest as this leaves a stumpy bit of stem that'll rot back into the crown.

SALLY TAGG / NZ GARDENER / Stuff

Harvest leafy greens by twisting and pulling off the individual outer (fatter) stalks, leaving the emerging (skinny) center leaves to grow, rather than chopping or uprooting the entire plant at once. By harvesting leaf by leaf, silverbeet, spinach and Swiss chard will keep cropping for at least 12 months. Don’t cut to harvest as this leaves a stumpy bit of stem that’ll rot back into the crown.

Growing tips

Silverbeet grows best in a sunny spot with well-drained soil but can cope with a little shade. Prepare the soil with compost and sheep pellets before planting.

To harvest, twist and pull the individual outer stalks, leaving the emerging centers to grow. Don’t cut the stems when harvesting, as this leaves a stumpy bit of stem that’ll rot back into the crown.

You can also sow silverbeet thickly in containers or buckets with drainage holes drilled in them and treat it as a baby salad green for the first six weeks or so, just snipping off leaves at the microgreen stage and adding it to salads. Silverbeet can cope well in the garden without extra watering but if growing it in pots, be sure to water it regularly. Fortnightly feeds of liquid fertilizer will also boost growth.

As a biennial, silverbeet flowers and sets seed in its second year. Snap the main stalk off, and it will send up a secondary crop of new shoots or leave the plants to self-seed.

'Fordhook Giant' silverbeet.

SALLY TAGG / NZ GARDENER / Stuff

‘Fordhook Giant’ silverbeet.

Standout varieties

The fat-stalked ‘Fordhook Giant’ is the classic silverbeet with dark green leaves and white stems. Dwarf variety ‘Compact Deep Green’ is a shorter-stemmed variety, making it good for pots. ‘Rainbow Lights’ has brightly colored stems in shades of flamingo pink, raspberry red, saffron yellow and orange, and is particularly striking in the garden or choose pretty ‘Peppermint’ with pink-and-white stems. Crimson-stemmed ‘Ruby Chard’ and ‘Cardinal’ are the perfect color match against crimson-flowering ‘Hughey’ broad beans, plus ‘Cardinal’ also has good resistance to fungal disease.

So-called perpetual spinach is related to silverbeet, although it usually has smaller leaves and thinner stems than most varieties.

Silverbeet 'Peppermint' has white petioles with pink stripes from bottom to top, creating a visual pop in the garden.  It has glossy, dark green, savoy-like leaves and is bolt tolerant.  Available from Egmont Seeds.

EGMONT SEEDS / Stuff

Silverbeet ‘Peppermint’ has white petioles with pink stripes from bottom to top, creating a visual pop in the garden. It has glossy, dark green, savoy-like leaves and is bolt tolerant. Available from Egmont Seeds.

Troubleshooting

If you can find a silverbeet plant without a snail hiding in the leaves, it must be an artificial plant! Remove slugs and snails by hand and wash leaves carefully after harvesting.

Young seedlings are particularly vulnerable to slugs and snails after a prolonged wet period or in spring, so consider protecting new plants with cloches.

The older the plants get, the more likely they’ll succumb to fungal leaf spots (cercospora) but this is cosmetic and doesn’t diminish their culinary value. You can avoid this by growing the plants in full sun and keeping the plants evenly watered. Disease is transferred by rain and watering, so avoid watering in the evening and splashing the leaves.

Close cousins

Silverbeet and beetroot are actually the same species, Beta vulgaris. Over time, Beta vulgaris plants were selected and bred for different qualities such as root or leaf size. Other Beta vulgaris species include the sugar beet, from which around 20 per cent of the world’s sugar is harvested, and the mangel wurzel, a fodder crop for livestock.

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