I have always been able to harvest off the same plants for the whole season by picking the outside leaves. I have also harvested the whole plant by cutting it a couple of inches above the ground and letting the stump grow into a new set of leaves. Mine get bitter if the get too mature or start to bolt.
Yes, I'm with TMaple, though my experience is the variety determines whether they get bitter or not. The "Lights" variety tend to get bitter with age, but the Fordhooks do not. There must be other good varieties that folks can recommend. We pick outer leaves all Summer, Fall and Winter 'til they go to seed. You can cut the entire top as TMaple suggested. Just leave the inner heart leaves. If bugs are a serious problem for you, don't do this, as the cutting, combined with a bug attack could do in your plants. I replant in late summer for a Fall/Winter harvest. We like international food and prepare them in the Roman style...with garlic, olive oil and plumped raisins (might sound weird, but they are great). We use them in salads and stews as well.
In our parts we call Swiss Chard Silver Beet. I have always used the outside leaves and they keep on going for ages. The younger the leaves are the better. They require frequent picking to keep them young. The stalks are great too and can be sliced and cooked seperately if you like , or added to stir fries. I love salads and find the really young leaves great in salads.
It is a great stand by to have in the garden as it goes on for ages and you can keep it fresh by picking some leaves and adding them to your compost if you don't want to use them at the time.
Would ya'll share what varieties of chard you grow? Ours does not get bitter with 12" leaves. It can get tough and stringy if it gets any larger, and it does develop a stronger flavor, but it's not bitter.
I remember that when we were kids, we would go through the chard sections of the garden and snip all the leaves off the plants, leaving about a hands width (adult hand, that is) of stalk. One week later, we were doing it again.
We used to get about 5-7 harvests off the chard before it got seedy, or tough or whatever.
We've been harvesting the outer leaves (bright lights) almost every other day and they are still yummy and still going strong, not bitter. Family and friends love to get a bag of fresh chard when we have alot.
Although I have "Bright Lights" on and off, I generally prefer to grow Fordhook. The leaves seem to be more fleshy, get enormous and stay mild. I have some "Lights" from last Spring going to seed in the garden now, but planted Fordhook this Spring. We have a sizable beet patch for that other more beety flavor.
Fourks, we grow between a quarter and a half acre garden, depending on what's going on, on our seventeen acres. Been growing chard for a long time. Everything is suffering from the third year of severe drought here. We are spring fed and need to consider the cistern that supplies the house as well as the garden. There is still enough to eat, give to friends and food pantries. If this drought continues I might need to scale down and convert to earth boxes. Thanks for the suggestion.
First year with the earthbox, and I'm sold! We live in the rockies at 8600' and very poor soil. I know drought, but for now we have to much rain and cold! One sure thing is that things will change:-) All my wildflowers are in wait for warmth. The bees are getting a little grumpy.
Fourks, the Rockies are beautiful but...so rocky! Bless you for gardening at 8,600'. I am just getting used to the arctic air of Atlanta and N. GA after almost forty years. It's hard to defrost a girl from Miami!.