Chicory is enjoyed for its roots and its tender shoots. Including this versatile plant in your home vegetable garden will give you plenty of choices in your kitchen.
Chicory tolerates cold and can be grown for its roots anywhere in the United States. Plant seeds an inch deep in the garden two to three weeks before the average date of last frost. Thin the plants to 12 to 18 inches apart. If chicory is planted in well-cultivated soil rich in organic matter, it should develop large roots.
Foliose varieties are eaten fresh as leafy salad greens or as blanched heads. To produce blanched heads, dig the roots out before a hard freeze. Cut off the tops about two inches above the crown, or top, of the root; store the roots in a cool place. In winter, force the roots in a cool, dark room by planting them in moist sand. Keep the emerging shoots covered with seven or eight inches of sawdust and water the plant occasionally. In three to four weeks, when new shoots emerge, cut the heads from the root. An easier and less expensive way to blanch the heads is to harvest by hand. Break or cut the heads just above the root, wash and trim them, and pack them into lightproof cardboard boxes. They must not be exposed to light, except for short periods, as even a small amount causes the outer leaves to turn yellow or green, making them bitter and impairing their quality.
Chicory is grown either for its root, which is roasted as a coffee substitute, or for its tender shoots, which are known as Belgian endive. For salads, harvest when the crowns are full and well colored. The darker the color, the more bitter the taste. Radicchio may or may not form a head, depending on temperature and varietal selection. If planting for the roots alone, they'll be ready to harvest in about l20 days.
There are several unique types of chicory you can choose from for your home vegetable garden. We've listed the different varieties of chicory below.
- Magdeburg, harvest at 100 days, is grown for its root, which is roasted as a coffee substitute.
- Brussels Witloof is one of the most famous forcing types, also grown for its root.
- Chioggia, harvest at 67 days, has a round head that is usually red, but there are also greenish-yellow and reddish-white types.
- Witloof Zoom is a forcing sugarloaf variety that produces tightly packed high-quality leaves.