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Endive, Plant Next Winter's Salads This Spring

By Chuck Tallard, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Advanced Master Gardener, Denver County

How's this for planning ahead? If you plant some Belgium endive this spring, you'll have enough endive roots in your garden to supply fresh salads from October through April of next year.

Many of us aren't familiar with the golden yellow, cone-shaped salad heads variously called Belgium endive and Witloof chicory. We think of chicory as a native American wildflower or a coffee substitute, and we associate endive with the curly leaf variety.

Our European counterparts, however, know Belgium endive for what it is -- a delicious salad green.

THE GROWING STAGE

In April or May, you'll want to plant endive seeds, avoiding the leafy endive types. Try Turbo (f2), available from some seed catalogs or "Whitloof Chicory" available at some local seed companies. As long as the seed is labeled "Whitloof," you will get the right product.

Plant as soon as the ground has warmed up enough for cool weather crops, such as lettuce or spinach. Plant in a 6-inch-by 6- inch pattern. A 4 x 8-foot plot produces enough well-developed roots for two people.

The newly sprouted plants attract slugs and pillbugs, so use traps or a little slug bait to save plants until they get several leaves. Thin plants to 6 inches apart and hand-weed early.

After the plants have shaded the ground, weeds should no longer be a problem and all that's necessary is a little water. Birds should not be a problem either. One taste of the leaves at this stage reveals the likely reason - a very bitter flavor.

ROOT HARVEST STAGE

Though fall seems (and is) a blessedly long way off, you'll need to know what to do with the plants then. The early October harvest provides roots to force for October and early November. Roots dug in early November will provide salad for December and January. The final harvest in early December can be stored in large pots or boxes and covered with dry or very slightly moistened sand until needed.

FORCING STAGE

About 3 to 4 weeks before endive heads are needed, place a root in a 6-inch wide by 6-inch deep pot. The roots likely will need trimming to fit the pot. Fill the pot with garden soil and firm to be sure the root is in contact with soil and that no large air pockets exist. Place a piece of 4-inch plastic pipe 6 inches long over the top of the endive and fill the pipe with perlite or dry sand.

When you decide it's time to start forcing the root, add water to the soil between the pipe and the pot and place the pot in a cool (40 degree to 60 degree) area. Avoid wetting the perlite or dry sand in the pipe as the endive head may not be able to force upward and you'll get a growth of smaller secondary buds. After 3 to 4 weeks, or when a light green leafy point pokes through the top, it's time to tip out the sand or perlite and cut off the head.

Brush off the dust, wash the head carefully and peel off the leaves for salad. The very bitter taste has been replaced by a mild lettuce-like flavor that is a welcome addition to commercial salad material. Endive used alone makes a wonderful salad that tastes particularly good when you consider the market price for this specialty vegetable. If you develop a large supply of endive heads, you might want to saute them or share the wealth with friends.

The forcing process is repeated throughout the winter until the roots are gone or the cool storage becomes too warm and the roots start to grow. At this time, pot all remaining roots and place the entire lot in the coolest place available for forcing.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010