Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

Growing Endive & Chicory (page 2 of 2)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Growing On

Thin plants to 10 to 12 inches apart. The red chicories are green during the summer, turning red only in the cool weather of fall. Gardeners in the North may find that some varieties of chicory, especially the green-leaved ones, are too tender to take fall frosts, although covering the heads with cloches or hotcaps may be helpful. Leafy chicories haven't been widely grown in this country, so there isn't a great deal of information on which varieties do best in different parts of the country. There's still lots of room for experimentation with this crop.

Some gardeners like to blanch their chicory for a milder flavor. About three weeks before harvesting, cover the heads with a flower pot with its drainage hole plugged to exclude light. Do this only in dry weather - wet plants will rot if covered.

Witloof Chicory or Belgian Endive

Witloof chicory roots can be forced in the fall or in the dead of winter to form nice tight heads of fresh leaves for salads. Forcing simply means encouraging the roots to use their stored energy to send up fresh top growth.

Sow seeds of forcing chicories in early spring in the North, or in midsummer in warmer parts of the country. Don't harvest the leaves over the summer. You want the plant to put all its energy into developing a large root.

Even better is to harvest the roots, store them and force them in the cellar in midwinter when a fresh head of chicory is really a delight. To do this, dig the roots sometime after the first killing frost. Roots six to eight inches long are best for forcing. Don't brush them or wash them. Just place them in the sun for an hour or so. Then store them in a cool cellar (40 to 50° F) in sand, sawdust, peat moss or in plastic bags. When winter sets in, remove some of the roots and trim the root ends so they're pretty much the same length - six to eight inches is best.

Growing Indoors

Half fill a box twice the height of the roots with sawdust, sand, peatmoss or very fine soil. Poke the roots into the growing medium, standing them upright and close to but not touching each other. The crowns of the roots should just be at the top of the packing material. Water thoroughly and then top off the box with another six inches or so of more fine sand, peat or sawdust. Put the box out of light in a warm spot (60F is ideal) and keep the earth moist. Cover the box with plastic or newspaper to retain moisture. Three or four weeks later you can harvest the tightly folded leaves that sprout up from the center bud of the crown. Cut or snap off the heads at the crown (you'll need to remove the top six inches of dry material in order to harvest the heads).

You may have to water again if the lower packing material dries out a bit. Make a hole through the top layer to water. You don't want it wet where the leaves are growing.

The heads are generally an inch or two in diameter and five or six inches tall. The leaves are yellowish or white because they haven't received any light. Separate the leaves before serving them.

You can start forcing a box of roots every two weeks or so to have a supply throughout the cold months.

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