Chicory or Cichorium intybus is a versatile vegetable that is available in three different forms, the forcing varieties, red chicory, and non-forcing varieties. All of these forms of chicory have their own distinct features.
The forcing chicory is loved by people for its leafy blanched head whereas the non-forcing chicory produces large leafy heads that look like lettuce. The red chicory or radicchio turns red with the change in the day length. Chicory acts as an excellent ingredient for spring and winter salad.
If you are planning to grow chicory in your vegetable garden, you must be having several questions on how to grow chicory at home.
You must also be wondering about the best varieties to pick for your garden, the planting and harvesting methods and the common problems that you may face while growing chicory.
So here is a detailed guide on how to grow chicory or radicchio.
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Here are some of the best chicory varieties that you can grow in your garden.
Leonardo (Our Favourite!)
It is a radicchio Rossa variety that is considered extremely productive if you wish to go to summer or autumn cropping. The heads of this variety develop a bright red colour when exposed to cooler temperatures.
It is a type of radicchio that matures into medium to large heads. The heads have well-filled red cores. This chicory variety produces uniform plants and the plants are resistant to bolting.
Pan di Zucchero
This variety of chicory is a sugar-loaf type. The plants produce medium to large heads. The outer leaves are dark green in colour and the hearts of these chicory plants are good for blanching.
It is one of the best forcing varieties of chicory. The plants produce tightly packed and nicely filled chicons of the best quality.
Chicory is easy to grow and doesn’t require so much care to produce a good yield. But like all other crops, chicory requires a unique set of planting techniques that help the chicory plants to thrive well and produce well-filled chicory heads or chicons.
The cultivars of forcing chicory varieties are sown in early spring during the months of May and June while those of non-forcing chicory varieties are sown in June and July. If you want to harvest mini leaves, you can sow the non-forcing seeds in a glasshouse at any time between late winters and early autumn.
You can sow the chicory seeds around one centimetre deep in rows. Space the rows at 30 centimetres apart from each other.
Choose a sunny site for planting chicory. But if you have chosen to grow a summer crop of mini leaves chicory crop, you can grow them in shady space as well. However, you must ensure that the soil in that space is fertile and filled with compost. In addition to this, the garden space that you have chosen to grow chicory must have well-drained soil.
The seedlings must be thinned to different levels depending upon the variety of chicory. For the forcing types, the thinning must be done till 15 centimetres apart whereas for the non-forcing varieties, the thinning must be done at 30 centimetres apart. If you are growing mini leaves, you must thin up to five centimetres.
If you live in a dry region, it is important to water the plants thoroughly and supply a liquid feed to the plants during the summer season, once every fifteen days. Always keep your garden area weed-free and remove any agents from your garden that are likely to promote weed growth.
Pull out the roots of the forcing chicory in November. Remove the leaves which are below 2.5 centimetres around the crown of the plant. Trim the longer leaves around the crown to 2.5 centimetres. You can store the roots by placing them horizontally under sand in a cool and shady place. Plant a few roots up to five, in a pot of 25 centimetres diameter, filled with moist compost. Leave the crown of the plant exposed.
Cover the pot with a black polythene bag to keep the light away. Alternatively, you can use a pot with its drainage holes covered to keep any light out. Store the pots at 10 to 15 degrees Celsius ambient temperature in order to encourage the production of chicons.
After 12 weeks of sowing the chicory plants, you can begin blanching them. Ensure that the leaves remain dry and are tied together loosely. Keep the pots covered until the leaves blanch. You may not need to blanch the leaves in most of the chicory varieties as the outer leaves of chicory blanch the inner leaves.
If you have grown non-forcing varieties of chicory, you can harvest the chicory heads from late summer to mid-autumn. When you cut the first head, leave the chicory stump in the ground to let it sprout again and produce a second head.
If you wish to eat chicory as leaves in a salad, you can harvest them after a few weeks of sowing, in early summer. The forcing chicory variety produces pale green, crisp, and sweet flavoured chicons. You can harvest the chicons when they are around 15 centimetres in height, which is after four to five weeks of blanching the leaves.
While setting up a vegetable garden, there are always some unwanted agents that may attack the crops and cause stunted growth of the plants. There are several diseases that may attack the plants and lead to a poor yield at the end of the growing season.
So, here are some common problems that you may face while growing chicory in your vegetable garden and the remedies to deal with them.
If the leaves of your plants or the chicory root are sitting in damp sand because of overwatering or when you are growing plants under shade, the plants may rot. The rotting starts from leaves and travels throughout the plant.
To prevent the rotting of your chicory plants, remove the rotten leaves and improve the flow of air in your garden. If you have grown the plants in pots, transfer the plants under full sun to let the leaves dry out.
Slugs and snails feed on the thin seedlings and you will be able to notice a slimy trail on the dark green outer leaves of the plants and the soil around the plants.
You can set up beer traps, sawdust and eggshell barriers to control the snails and slugs in your garden. You can also use copper tapes and biocontrols to ward off the existence of these harmful creatures in your garden.
Aphids suck out the sap of the plants and cause yellowing and distortion of the leaves.
To keep aphids away from your chicory crop, you can sprinkle some flour on the plants. You can also make a solution of liquid dish soap with water and sprinkle it on your plants once a day for a few weeks.
It is a kind of fungal disease that leads to grey or tan coloured spots on the leaves of chicory plants. It occurs when there are weed plants in your garden.
Keep the weed plants out of your garden area by weeding off regularly. You can also do crop rotation in your garden to keep Anthracnose disease away.