For home gardeners and for home cooks, endive provides a wonderful alternative to lettuce.
Like lettuce, endive is a cool-season crop, although it's more tolerant of heat than lettuce. Grow it from seed planted in your garden four to six weeks before the average date of last frost. Long, hot summers will force the plant to bolt (go to seed).
If your region has a short, hot growing season, start endive indoors from seed. Transplant it as soon as possible so the plants mature before the weather gets hot.
Starting in midsummer, sow succession crops in well-worked soil with good drainage and water retention. If you're direct-seeding, sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in wide rows. Thin the plants to 9 to l2 inches apart; crowded plants may bolt early. Water regularly to keep the plants growing quickly; lack of water will slow growth and cause the leaves to become bitter. Endive tastes better if you blanch it by tying string around the leaves to hold them together. This deprives the plant of sunlight, discouraging the production of chlorophyll.
The time from planting to harvest is 90 to 100 days from seed. To harvest, cut the plant off at soil level.
There are two main varieties of endive.
- Green Curled, harvest at 90 days, has fringed leaves that are creamy white in the center.
- Sinco, harvest at 80 days, is a large-headed escarole.