How to Grow Chicory
Chicory is native to Britain —where it thrives on chalky—and throughout most of Europe and western Asia. It is grown as annual and, like , usually blanched to make the leaves less bitter. The blanched hearts or ‘chicons’ are also served as a cooked vegetable. In some countries the roots are used as a substitute or additive for coffee.
Soil and fertilizer requirements
Deep, fertile soil which has been well manured for the previous crop is necessary to produce large, healthy tap roots. These are then forced and blanched to produce the familiarleaves and hearts. Seed sowing and crop management Sow during late April or early May in 1-cm (½-in) deep drills 40cm (15m) apart. Thin the to 25cm (10in) apart when they reach the third leaf stage. Keep the plants weed-free by regular hoeing. There is a cultivar called ‘Sugar loaf (Pain de Sucre) which can be sown in June or July to produce a heart, similar to a cos in appearance, which will stand in a fresh condition for a long time.
Lifting and storage of the roots
By October or November the roots will be fully grown and the majority of leaves will have died down. Carefully lift the long parsnip-like roots and trim all the foliage back to 2cm (1in) above the crown. The ideal roots will have a diameter of 5 to 7cm (about 2-1/4in) at the top and be up to 30cm (12in) in length. All thin, damaged or forked roots should be thrown away. Store the roots on their sides in boxes in a cool, frost-free building. A covering of sand or peat will prevent them from drying out too much.
Forcing and blanching
Remove the roots, a few at a time, from the storage box. Stand the roots upright, 5 to 7cm (about 2-1/4in) apart, in deep boxes or pots containing sand or light soil. The crowns should protrude 2cm (1in) above the surface and the roots should be gently watered before covering them up for forcing. Unless chicory is forced in absolute darkness the hearts or ‘chicons’ will be yellow and bitter. The containers must, therefore, be covered to exclude all light. As the hearts grow they should be inspected regularly to make sure that slugs and swift moth caterpillars are not present. Water the plants periodically to make sure that growth is clean and crisp.
The hearts are ready for cutting when they are 12 to 15cm (4 to 6in) long. This will take about 8 weeks at 10°C/50°F or half that time at 16°C/60°F. After the hearts have been harvested the roots should be discarded and the process started again with some more from the store.
Pests and diseases
Apart from slugs and caterpillars chicory is a remarkably trouble-free crop.
‘Witloot’ or ‘Large Brussels’: the most popular ‘White leaf chicory; used for forcing to give ‘chicons’.
‘Sugar Loaf (Pain de Sucre): similar to cos lettuce; stands well.