With the cool March and April this spring, Mainers need something to brighten their spirits. I suggest Swiss chard, one of the most forgiving and most rewarding vegetables you can grow in your garden – or in pots on your patio.

Swiss chard is a healthy vegetable that can be planted outdoors up to three weeks before the last expected frost date – which means right about now in southern Maine. If you are farther north, plant them in a cold frame or in a pot covered with clear plastic – creating a tiny greenhouse and giving you a vegetable from your own garden sometime in June.

Chard wants light, rich soil, and you should water it regularly if you haven’t had rain for a while. I plant our chard in rectangles, about 2 feet wide and 3 feet long, with one seed in every square inch. After the plants are about 3 inches tall, pull out the weaker-looking ones so you have about two inches between plants. Once the plants are 6 to 8 inches high, cut them about two inches above soil level, and they should sprout again from the same plant.

Chard does not like hot weather, so if you are succession planting stop in mid-June, starting again about 40 days before your first-frost date. Around here, that would mean planting the first or second week of August for a fall crop.

The standard Fordhook Giant chard probably gives more production, but I consider Bright Lights – with its multicolored stems – an ornamental as well as a food plant. And it has always done well for us.