All the chicories can
be used to make a crisp winter salad, but they
are not to everyone’s taste. The admirers
find them refreshing and tart – the haters
find them bitter. There are two basic types to
choose from. The forcing chicories are the more
popular, producing plump leafy heads (‘chicons’)
from roots kept in the dark during the winter
months. The usual colour is white, but you can
force a red variety to produce the white and maroon
leaves served as radicchio in Continental salads.
The other chicories are the non-forcing ones which
do not require blanching – they produce
large lettuce-like heads which are ready for harvesting
Expected germination time: 7-14 days
Approximate number per ounce: 20,000
Expected yield from a 10ft double row: 6lb (3kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 5 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: 18-30
Ease of cultivation: Non-forcing varieties are
easy – forcing varieties call for more work.
· Chicory is not fussy about soil type,
but it does need a sunny site.
· Dig the soil in autumn or winter and
incorporate compost if the soil is short of humus.
Prepare the seed bed a few days before the sowing
– rake a general-purpose fertilizer into
Sow very thinly ½ in (1cm) deep in rows
12in (30cm) apart and cover with soil.
Sowing time: Forcing varieties – May to
mid June; Non-forcing varieties – June to
Cutting time: Forcing varieties: December to March
(sometimes also April); Non-forcing varieties
– mid October to December (can extend from
the beginning of October to the end of February).
Looking after the crop
· Hoe to keep down weeds – water
when the weather is dry. Thin the seedlings to
6in (15cm) (forcing varieties) or 12in (30cm)
(non-forcing varieties) apart.
· Forcing varieties: Lift parsnip-like
roots in November. Discard ones which are fanged
or less than 1in (2.5cm) across at the crown.
Cut back leaves to 1in (2.5cm) above the crown
– cut back roots to a length of 6in (15cm).
Pack them horizontally in a box of sand in a cool
shed – keep until required. Force a few
at a time between November and March. Plant 5
in a 9in (23cm) pot – surround each root
with moist peat or compost, leaving the crown
exposed. Cover the pot with an empty larger one
– block up drainage holes to prevent the
entry of light. Keep at 50-60°F (10-15°C)
to promote chicon formation.
· Forcing varieties: The chicons are ready
when they are about 6in (15cm) high – this
will take 3-4 weeks from the start of forcing.
Cut just above the level of the crown. Water the
compost and replace the cover – smaller,
secondary chicons will then be produced.
· Non-forcing varieties: Cut heads in late
autumn – use immediately or store in a cool
shed for later use. Provide some frost protection
over plants if they are not to be cut until the
Witloof: The traditional forcing variety, sometimes
called Belgian or Brussels Chicory. Good and reliable,
but really needs forcing under an 8in (20cm) peat
or soil layer to keep chicons tightly folded.
Normato: A modern forcing variety which doesn’t
need a soil layer when forcing.
Sugar Loaf: Pain de Sucre in some catalogues –
the traditional non-forcing variety.
Crystal Head: One of the modern non-forcing varieties
– others include Snowflake and Winter Fare.
These new ones are hardier than Sugar Loaf.
Rossa De Verona: A red-leaved chicory which you
can treat as a forcing or non-forcing variety.