Yesterday I captured the sun glowing through my Swiss chard, illuminating the leaves like fire, or perhaps stained glass. Last night's frost has put an end to that, now they droop and flag, all the wind knocked out of their veiny sails. Today I must cut them down and try, really try, to find a recipe that makes me want to eat rather than simply adore them. Like wedding cake and lattice-top pie it falls into the almost too-pretty-to-eat category for me. Yet a little birdie might feel differently.
Earlier this year before the rest of the landscape was finished at our new home I was impatient and planted a fall garden in the kitchen beds, late even for Minnesota standards. Surprisingly those sad leftover veggies from the garden center rose to the occasion, especially the chard. But back when it was just a couple sprigs, the stonemason noticed a goldfinch sitting atop the leaves. He even managed a photo that identified the very culprit making holes in the leaves.
I thought back to a similar photo I had taken of a goldfinch sitting on chard plants at the University of Minnesota Demo Garden on the St. Paul campus. Hmmm, the goldfinches must sit on the sturdy leaves and eat insects I thought. What a coincidence. But of course, my curiosity was piqued.
I wondered how many innocent worms had been framed by these sweet little yellow birds?
Check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology, my favorite bird website and it will tell you that American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are almost exclusively seed eaters, connoisseurs of thistle seed. In fact it states they are strict vegetarians, any insect eaten is by accident. Nothing is said about consuming leafy greens.
Do a search on Flickr for goldfinch and chard and you'll see flocks of finches perched upon raggedy chard, including my photo. Some theorize the birds are sipping water from the deeply grooved foliage.
Go on the garden discussion boards and it's another story. Loads of anecdotal evidence that goldfinches are enjoying Swiss chard in lots of gardens around the country. You might say that pokes holes in this venerable institutuion's knowledge of goldfinch behavior.
Have you seen goldfinches on your chard? And while we're at it, how do you like to eat it? I'm considering the creamy greens recipe from this month's Martha.