Chicory is grown as a shoot from the chicory root. The white leaf rosettes are harvested in winter and taste tender and aromatic bitter. This is how to successfully grow the vegetable.
Chicory (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum) is originally derived from the wild chicory (Cichorium intybus) and belongs to the composite or daisy family (Compositae). Botanically, chicory is the shoot of the chicory root.
In the middle of the 19th century it was discovered by chance in Belgium what makes the chicory: chicory roots stored during the winter formed yellowish-white, cone-shaped shoots that tasted tender and slightly bitter. Because of the place of its discovery, chicory is also called “Belgian endive”. To grow the shoots, also called cones, you need to harvest the low-growing chicory in late autumn and then sprout the roots in soil over the winter in a cool, dark place.
Appearance and growth
Chicory, which is a biennial, forms a loose rosette of leaves with a fleshy taproot in the first year. The leaves are light green and resemble those of the dandelion. In the second year, after a dormant period, a bud-like shoot grows from the root, from which the inflorescence emerges. From this shoot are driven the edible cones.
Location and soil
Chicory is a low to medium feeder and requires a sunny location with a deep, not too heavy soil. The soil should be low in nitrogen, if possible.
Crop rotation and mixed cropping
Good neighbors for chicory are tomatoes, runner beans, lettuce, carrots, and fennel. Bad for mixed cropping are potatoes and their relatives radicchio and endive. You should not grow chicory again on the same bed where other composite plants have previously stood until after three to four years.
As early as May, sow chicory thinly in rows about one centimeter (0.4 in) deep with a spacing of 25 to 30 centimeters (10 to 12 in). Wait until the soil warms up, because in the cold the plants easily shot. After germination, of about three to four weeks, it is necessary to thin out the plantlets to a distance of about 10 centimeters (4 inches). With this dense spacing, the single-shoot roots form best.
In the bed, the chicory is extremely undemanding. Water the vegetable regularly and hoe occasionally. On lean soils, you can fertilize sparingly with a little compost or plant manure.
When the outer leaves of chicory turn yellow in October or November, carefully dig up the roots with a digging fork, remove the outer leaves and pound the roots in moist sand in a cool place, the basement or garage, at about 0 to 3 °C (32 to 37 °F) for a week. While the roots fill up with cold, the rosettes remain closed. Then place them for three weeks in the dark and cool to sprout, at about 10 to a maximum of 18 °C (50 to 64 °F). A cellar or garage is also a suitable place.
Gradually put the roots in boxes with damp sand. They must stand upright. Alternatively, two flower pots with the same diameter are suitable. The lower pot, filled with moist sand, should be deep enough so that the long roots peek at most a little over the edge. In this pot, place the roots close together in the soil. The second pot you put over the top for darkening and place the two also in a cool and dark location. After about four to six weeks, once they are about 15 centimeters (6 in) long, you can break off or cut the cones.
Some old varieties are designed to cover the roots with soil, and on top of them again put a layer of soil 15 cm (6 in) thick.
Diseases and pests
If the cones turn brown inside, it indicates a lack of lime. If the growing temperature is too high, too loose heads will form quickly. Infestation with earthworms can be recognized by feeding spots on the roots. Powdery mildew is indicated by a white coating on the leaves.
Harvest and use of chicory
Chicory sprouts contain potassium, calcium and many vitamins. If you want to prepare chicory, you have several option. The pale and tender cones are a delicacy as raw salads due to their slight bitterness, to which apples, raisins or oranges add the necessary sweetness. The fine leaves of the shoots can also be steamed or baked. It is also suitable as a vegetable garnish for dipping sauces. Wrapped in a damp cloth, the vegetable will keep in the refrigerator for several days.