Step-by-step Guide to Growing Chicory
Cichorium intybus (tarn. Compositae) Perennial, grown as an annual Sowing to harvesting time: 26-29 weeks from sowing to lifting the roots, which are then stored and forced at intervals during winter and spring.
Size: leaves grow to a height of 25-30 cm (10-12”) in the first year, when harvested green; chicons (blanched shoots) 12.5- cm (5-9”) long.
Yield: 12-15 plants per 3 m (10’) row; each yielding 125 g (4 oz).
A fresh, crispy vegetable harvested in winter and early spring,is becoming increasingly popular as an unusual, easy-to-grow, and delicious crop. Its blanched creamy white, tightly packed shoots, called ‘chicons’, are a real delicacy, and are available to the home grower for very little outlay in time or money. Occasionally, you can buy this vegetable from luxury food shops, but only at prohibitive prices. However, if you grow chicory, for the cost of a packet of seeds you can have heavy crops of fat chicons over a period of several months, at a time of the year when fresh vegetables are especially appreciated.
Although it is most widely known for its blanched chicons, chicory is harvested in a variety of ways, from summer onwards. At first, its unblanched green leaves, which resemble those of a dandelion, are picked and either used fresh in salads or cooked and eaten like. In autumn the roots are lifted and stored for forcing chicons through the winter. Lastly, the roots of some varieties can be cut up, roasted, and ground for use as a coffee substitute, or blended with coffee to give a pleasantly bitter taste to the drink. In these days, with coffee so expensive, growing crops of chicory root for this purpose can be a real money-saver. Usually varieties which are grown for their roots have less tasty leaves than those grown for chicons, but there is one variety, Belgian Witloof, which can be used both as a vegetable and as a coffee substitute.
Sugar Loaf chicory is a third, and quite distinct, variety. In autumn it produces a very close head of inwardly curled leaves, a bit like a Chineseor pale cos in appearance. Because it can stand a moderate degree of frost, it is a valuable asset to the winter vegetable garden. It makes a very pleasant salad at a time when lettuce has to either be grown in artificially heated conditions or bought from the shops at top winter prices.
The chicory plant is a hardy perennial, and its bright blue, daisy-like flowers can often be seen in the countryside, particularly on chalky soils. Do not, however, dig up wild chicory and attempt to blanch it or use the roots for essence of chicory; it is a poor substitute for a named variety, and is bound to give disappointing results.
Many people are put off by the fact that blanching is necessary before chicons can be produced. This is not at all difficult, and can be done in very little space. A bit of room in an airing cupboard, attic or warm cellar is all you need. Alternatively, under the greenhouse staging is another out-of-the-way place which can be put to good use. Once the roots have been prepared and packed into boxes or pots (both very simple operations) there is nothing left to do but harvest the chicons a few weeks later.
Suitable site andAn open site with not too much shade is ideal; make sure it is well away from overhanging trees. The best soil for growing chicory is a light but reasonably fertile one, which is at least 60 cm (2’) deep. Avoid badly drained soils, and shallow or stony ones, which cause the roots to fork. During the autumn before sowing the following spring, double dig the soil, working in plenty of well-rotted manure or garden , so that it is completely absorbed during winter. Soil which has been manured for a previous crop will only need light forking over before planting.
Chicory is found growing wild on chalky soils, and prefers an alkaline soil. If your soil is acid, work in carbonate of lime (chalk) a week or two before sowing; the rate will depend on the pH of your.