There are three types of chicory: forcing types like ‘Witloof’ grown for their plump leafy heads or ‘chicons’ when blanched; red chicory or radicchio which responds to change in day length by turning red; finally non-forcing or sugar loaf types that produce large hearted lettuce-like heads (heading forms) for autumn harvest. Chicory is used as a bitter flavouring to autumn and spring salads – add tomatoes or sweet dressing to reduce bitterness.
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Cultivars for forcing are sown in May and June; non-forcing varieties in June and July. For mini leaves, non-forcing types can be sown at any time in a glasshouse from late winter in until early auutmn.
Sow thinly 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart; for mini leaves every 5cm (2in).
Chicory prefers an open, sunny site but summer crops and mini leaves will tolerate some shade, soil should be fertile and free draining.
Thin seedlings of forcing types to 15cm (6in) apart, thin non-forcing ones to 30cm (12in), and 5cm for mini leaves.
Water thoroughly in dry weather and give plants in containers a general liquid feed fortnightly in summer.
Lift the roots of forcing varieties in November, discard any less than 2.5cm (1in) across at the crown. Cut back leaves to 2.5cm (1in) above the crown.
Pack roots horizontally in sand in a cool shed until required. Force a few at a time by planting five in a 25cm (10in) pot of moist compost, leaving the crown exposed.
Cover with a black polythene bag (or pot with drainage holes covered to exclude the light) and keep at 10-15°C (50-59°F) to produce the ‘chicons’.
Start blanching radicchio about 12 weeks after sowing. Make sure the leaves are dry, and loosely tie together. Cover with a black plastic pot with the drainage holes covered until the leaves blanch. Most types form good heads without any need to tie or blanch – the outer leaves blanch the inner ones.
Non-forcing chicoryThese form lettuce-like heads that are ready to harvest from late summer to mid-autumn.
After cutting, leave the stump and it may resprout to provide a second, smaller head.
You can also harvest them as young salad leaves, just a month or two after sowing.
Forcing chicoryForcing chicory, grown without light in winter, forms small tight leafy heads known as chicons. These are pale and crisp, with a sweet flavour.
Chicons are ready to harvest when 15cm (6in) high, after around four weeks of blanching.
Rotting: Leaves rot in damp conditions or when plants are grown under cover.
Remedy: Remove damaged leaves, and improve ventilation under cover.
Slugs and snails
These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
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