30cm between rows
Chicory is an acquired taste. Many people find the leaves bitter, but it’s easy to look after and has a long growing season.
It can be cooked or eaten as a winter salad, as it’ll keep growing until early spring. There are three different types of chicory: ‘forcing’ chicory grown for plump hearts that are good for blanching; red chicory or radicchio, that’s great for colourful salads; and ‘non-forcing’ or sugar loaf chicory that can be cooked in a variety of ways or eaten raw. Chicory varieties are either perennial or biennial and will tolerate a range of climates and soil types.
Find how to grow chicory in our handy grow guide.
Sowing chicory seeds
You can start in March, sowing seeds into modules to grow in a greenhouse. Or sow the seeds of ‘radicchio’ types of chicory outdoors, directly into well-prepared soil from late spring through the summer. Sow seeds 1.5cm deep and either so broadcast or in rows 30cm apart and thin seedlings later.
Tending your chicory crop
Generally chicory thrives in well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Thin out seedlings to 25-30cm apart between plants and keep weed-free. Module-grown plants can be transplanted to a cloche in autumn to extend the season.
For forcing varieties, you will need to lift the roots in November, throwing away the smaller ones. Cut back leaves to 2.5cm and pack the roots horizontally in sand. Store them in a cool shed until needed. To produce chicons, plant a few roots in medium-sized pot of moist compost, with the tops just above the soil. Cover with either a black polythene bag or another pot and keep at 10-15°C (50-59°F).
Non-forcing chicory can be cut from late summer until October. Look for fully formed hearts to the plants and cut them to just above soil level. The stumps will resprout if left so you can harvest more leaves later.
If you’re growing forcing types of chicory, the ‘chicons’ are ready to harvest after around four weeks under cover, when they’re about when 15cm high.
Plants can be pulled up by their roots and will keep for a few weeks in a fridge. Or store in a cool shed, protected against frosts with straw.
Preparation and uses
There are lots of ways to use chicory, both cooked and raw. See what chicory recipes our friends at Olive magazine have to suggest.
Chicory is relatively free from pest and diseases.
The traditional method is to sow broadcast or randomly, allowing the plants to self-select and thin themselves out. If left to run to seed, chicory plants make beautiful flowers that are edible in salads.
Chicory varieties to try
- ‘Kristalkopf Snowflake’ – a ‘non-forcing’ chicory with heads of crispy leaves with a soft heart
- ‘Rossa di Treviso’ – a tall-growing ‘non-forcing’ chicory with heads of maroon and white leaves with thick, pure-white stems
- ‘Variegato di Castelfranco’ – a glorious ‘non-forcing’ chicory which has pretty variegated green leaves with maroon spots. Harvest young leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis or allow hearts to develop and use whole in stir-fries
- ‘Palla Rossa’, RHS AGM – a ‘non-forcing’ chicory with heads of maroon leaves with prominent white veining, and a firm heart. A reliable variety that does not bolt
- ‘Pan di Zucchero’ RHS AGM – a sugar-loaf variety with dark green outer leaves. Good for blanching the hearts
- ‘Witloof de Brussels’ – this is one of the famous forcing or Witloof varieties. These are originally closely related to dandelions, and are therefore not fussy about soil – in fact they prefer not to have any added compost or manure