Spring Chicories (cont)
By: Janet H. Sanchez
For prime fall harvest, sow the sugarloaf chicories about 80 to 90 days before your first expected fall frost -- late July to early August in my USDA Hardiness Zone 9 garden. In the North, this can mean planting in June, so you may have to shade the seedlings to keep them from bolting in the heat (or wait until after the summer solstice).
These plants are hardy, surviving temperatures of 20° F or a little below, so in mild climates, you can harvest into the winter. Where winter is more severe, harvest until the first hard frost, then cut plants back to a half-inch and mulch deeply to keep the crowns from freezing. Early the following spring, remove the mulch; the plants will promptly resprout. Harvest the leaves when they're four to six inches tall. You can sow crops for overwintering up to 40 days before the first fall frost--plants that are at least three inches across by the first hard frost will survive. Or, harvest the heads in the late fall and store them in the refrigerator or root cellar, where they will keep nicely for a month or more.
To develop to full size and succulence, sugarloaf chicories need good soil and enough space. Prepare the bed with compost and a balanced fertilizer (as for lettuce) and sow seeds several inches apart in rows some 18 inches apart, later thinning the seedlings to stand a foot apart in the row.
Sugarloaf chicories are offered under several different names, including 'Sugarloaf', 'Snowflake' and 'Crystal Hat'. I've found little difference among them, though Crystal Hat and Snowflake are said to be a little hardier than the others.
Another type of green chicory, Grumolo grows into a pretty dark green rosette up to six inches tall and eight inches wide. For optimum flavor, it's grown in fall so the plants will stay fairly small. The young leaves of this chicory add a delicious and sharp bite to salads and are sometimes included in the popular mesclun salad mixes.
This is a fast grower and also hardier than the sugarloaf types. It's easily taken temperatures of 18° F here in my garden. Sow a month or so before the first expected fall frost. This will allow harvests in late fall (and into early winter where winter temperatures aren't severe). Start harvesting again in spring as new leaves form on the overwintered plants, which should be mulched in the colder zones. Prepare the soil as for sugarloaf chicory, but sow the seeds only an inch apart in rows spaced at six to eight inches. Harvest the young plants when they reach two or three inches, or snip a few leaves at a time from each plant, allowing the plant to continue to produce tender new leaves.