Known by the scientific name Cichorium intybus, chicory or endive is a vegetable obtained using the forcing technique. The objective is to stimulate the endive’s development in the dark to produce leaves of white colour. Its cultivation therefore requires the mastery of some basic techniques to produce endives with no bitter taste. The endive’s white colour is an indication of its good quality.

Also known by the name ‘Witloof’ (in Dutch), endive belongs to the chicory family. The growing technique essentially comprises two stages, the first of which is the production of the root, followed by the forcing procedure which allows the gardener to have endives with white leaves and of which the taste is only slightly bitter. Endives are seasonal plants are propagated by seeds and by forcing of the roots. The recommended seed density is about  1/8 of an ounce per square metre (4g/ m²) for an average yield of 55 lbs per square metre (25 kg / m² ) at harvest. The speed at which the shoots emerge largely depends on the sowing technique. Two days are needed for seeds placed under a cold frame and twice as much for those planted in-ground. The basic material needed for growing in a vegetable garden are a spade, a rake, a plastic bin of about 20 inches (50 centimetres) in height, and opaque plastic.

Growing endives

Growing endives involves several steps namely sowing, uprooting, forcing, breaking and packaging. Sowing is usually done in the month of May and its purpose is to produce roots. It is carried out within a 10 to 12-inch (25 to 30 centimetres) radius. The soil should be rich, loose and with a fine texture. It is essential to cover the seeds with a thin layer of sieved soil or peat to stimulate the sprouting of the seeds after approximately a week. Given that shoot emergence is very dense during germination, it is necessary to thin out the seedlings to sustain the endives’ growth and development. This thinning is conducted once the seedlings have 2 to 3 leaves, of which the length is about 4 inches (ten centimetres).

Subsequently, to have real endives, proceed to the forcing of young plants by pulling out the roots in early winter and letting them rest in a dry location for a week to stop the vegetation.

Forcing is preceded by the uprooting of young endives. Their leaves are then cut, leaving a leaf length of about an inch (2 cm) at the level of the collar. For industrial plantations, uprooting is done with a machine that is pulled by a tractor. There are different forcing techniques that vary according to the equipment you have available on hand.

Breaking consists of removing the endives from their roots and is performed by hand after a period of about 20 days.  After they have been cleaned and sorted by category, the endives are packaged in bags or boxes to be marketed and consumed.

The different techniques for forcing endives

For a vegetable garden at home, all you need is a plastic tray containing soil made up of sand and peat. Then, set up the chicory roots by covering up the bin with opaque plastic film to preserve the darkness, all the while making sure to leave enough space for the endives to develop. White chicory is obtained after 6 to 8 weeks in an environment of which the freshness is kept at a constant level.

Home-made forcing in the cellar, a technique developed by Bréziers, consists of setting up endive roots in a wooden tray and covering them up with a layer of soil or sand. The endives will grow slowly, taking advantage of the cellar’s total darkness and low temperature.

There is also the forcing outdoors method which allows you to have more available space, and thus a greater yield. Managing the light is done by installing corrugated iron sheets. The temperature is maintained at the desired level by heating of the earth, which is itself achieved by circulating water through buried pipes. Refrigerated storage allows you to have ready-for-transplanting roots throughout the year. With this method, it is possible to have an endive production throughout the year.

Tips for growing endives successfullly

The planting field should be watered, weeded and hoed regularly throughout the summer for the soil to retain its freshness. Weeding should be done regularly to prevent the appearance of weeds. When covering endives with sheet iron, it is advisable to raise the cover slightly to ensure good ventilation. To select the roots intended for forcing operations, get rid of the forked ones or those that present injuries. Watering endives grown in the basement must be done frequently to maintain a constant humidity level.

In addition, to accelerate the plants’ growth in the cellar, set up a layer of straw on the tray, as it will allow for a slight increase in temperature. To maintain total darkness, using newspaper or perforated plastic film to cover the tray proves to be efficient in stopping the infiltration of light. Indeed, to prevent them from having a bitter taste, endives that are packaged in plastic bas or in boxes must always be kept away from the light.

Finally, among the diseases that can affect them, root rot can be treated with Bordeaux mixture, flies with malathion and parathion, rust with fungicides and grubs with the appropriate insecticides.

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Published in Winter vegetables by Alexander on 14 Sep 2011