Chicory, a versatile and nutritious leafy green, is gaining popularity among gardeners and food enthusiasts alike. With its distinctive bitter flavor and a host of health benefits, growing chicory in your garden can elevate your culinary adventures. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the art of growing chicory, from selecting the right varieties to harvesting and enjoying this delicious green.
Dandelions can be frustrating.
I know. I live in a sea of yellow for the entire month of May.
But, I have learned to embrace the yellow.
When you have as much grass as we do, you really can’t “pull them as you see them”…there are just too many weeds. Plus, when you realize the benefits of dandelions, you kind of start to appreciate them.
The first benefit? The chicory family has many varieties: endive, frisee, escarole, radicchio and dandelion (the cultivated variety have much longer and less bitter leaves than the kind you pick from your front yard). Imagine the possibilities from one family of greens!Choosing the Right Varieties When You’re Growing Chicory:
Chicory comes in various forms, including radicchio, endive, and escarole. Each variety has its unique characteristics and flavors, allowing you to experiment with a range of taste profiles in your garden. Consider factors like growing conditions, taste preferences, and intended use when selecting chicory varieties for your garden.
Optimal Growing Conditions:
Chicory thrives in cool weather and prefers well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Select a sunny location in your garden that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. Prepare the soil by incorporating compost or well-rotted manure to improve fertility and drainage. If your soil is heavy, consider adding sand or perlite to improve drainage.
Starting Chicory from Seeds:
Chicory is typically grown from seeds, which can be sown directly into the garden or started indoors. Start seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Sow the seeds in seed trays or pots filled with seed-starting mix. Keep the soil consistently moist and provide warmth and adequate light. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches tall, they can be transplanted into the garden.
Transplanting and Spacing:
When transplanting chicory seedlings, ensure they are hardened off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions. Space the plants 12-18 inches apart to allow for proper airflow and growth. Keep in mind that some varieties, like radicchio, may benefit from blanching. This process involves tying the outer leaves together with twine to encourage the inner leaves to develop a milder flavor and a beautiful red color.
Watering and Care:
Chicory plants prefer consistent moisture, but overwatering can lead to root rot. Water deeply when the top inch of soil feels dry, aiming to keep the soil evenly moist. Mulching around the plants can help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Regularly inspect your plants for pests such as aphids or snails, and take appropriate measures to control them using organic methods.
Chicory can be harvested at different stages, depending on your preferences. For baby greens, you can begin harvesting when the plants reach about 4-6 inches in height. Simply snip the outer leaves with sharp scissors, allowing the center of the plant to continue growing. For a full head of chicory, wait until the plant reaches its mature size, typically around 12-16 inches in height. Harvest the entire plant by cutting it off at the base.
Culinary Delights with Chicory:
Once you’ve harvested your chicory, it’s time to enjoy the culinary delights it offers. Chicory greens can be used raw in salads or cooked in various dishes. Their slightly bitter taste pairs well with sweet or tangy flavors. Try grilling radicchio for a smoky twist, sautéing endive with garlic and olive oil, or incorporating escarole into hearty soups and stews. Experiment with different cooking methods to discover your favorite chicory preparations.
Growing chicory in your garden opens up a world of culinary possibilities. With its unique bitter flavor, versatile usage, and health benefits, chicory is a valuable addition to any home garden. By selecting the right varieties, providing optimal growing conditions, and harvesting at the right stage, you can enjoy a plentiful harvest of this delicious leafy green. So, embrace the art of growing chicory and savor its bitter delight in your culinary creations. Happy gardening!
There is also chicory root tea (which, if you are a coffee drinker like me, you will love!!) and dandelion wine (which I have never tried but would love too).
Now, how can you hate this beautiful weed? It even gives you hours of fun once the flower blooms into fluffy white seeds to be blown all over your yard (uhhhm, wait, don’t do this)
If you can get your hands on some of the planting variety, it grows like crazy and can be chopped and frozen to be used all winter long.
Once you pick it, the possibilities are endless! Cook up the greens and use it as a topper for a crostini – like here where it tops crispy bread slices, then it gets another layer of chopped tomatoes, more cheese and then under the boiler it goes!!
Or click here for another great (breakfast!!) recipe with dandelion greens!!
Go on…embrace the yellow!! xo