How to grow endive, a popular salad vegetable on the Continent there are two types: curly endive (chicorée frisée), which is more heat-resistant, and Batavian or broad leaved (escarole); there are also intermediate hybrids. Endive is traditionally cultivated as an Autumn or early Winter crop. If grown under cover in a cold greenhouse, cropping can continue into Spring. In some places endive is called chicory (which is a different crop).
Sow in situ and thin, or in seed trays or modules and transplant (this is the best method for early spring sowings). Spacing varies from 25-37cm (10-15") each way depending on cultivar. Plants take about 3 months to reach maturity.
Sow in April indoors at 68ª F (20ª C) in seed trays or modules, using early varieties but early sowings are prone to bolting so you're better off waiting till late May and continue till mid July for continuity. Do not allow temperature to fall below 40ª F for more than 20 days or plants will bolt. Harden off and plant out under cloches or crop covers. Make a further sowing indoors in May. The main sowing for autumn cropping should be made outdoors in June or July (any type). Sow a broad leaved or hardy curled cultivar in a cold greenhouse in August.
Endive is best sown in modular trays and planted out in about 4 weeks.
Sowing in Modular Trays
Use a seed compost which has a finer texture and lower nutrients than your standard multipurpose compost. We use a seed module tray with each section being approx 2 inches deep. Here's what you do:
- Fill the seed tray with compost and brush off any excess. When filling the tray rub the compost through your hands to break up any lumps. Give the tray a sharp bang on your table to settle.
- With your fingers make small depressions in each cell about a fingernail or 1cm deep.
- Sow 1 or 2 seeds per module. If 2 seeds germinate you will have to remove the weaker seedling.
- Cover the seeds with another layer of compost then scrape across the top of the tray with a stick to remove excess.
- Gently water your seeds. A good tip is to use a plastic bottle with small holes punched in the cap. This is less likely to wash the seed around than the heavy spray from a watering can.
- Place your trays in your greenhouse, poly tunnel, cold frame or windowsill to germinate. They should be ready to plant out in about 4 weeks.
- If you're sowing in April the seeds will need some warmth. Use a propagator, heat mat or a warm south facing windowsill.
Planting Out Endive Seedlings
Endive should be planted out at a spacing of 25cm between plants and 30cm between rows.
Water your plants well an hour before planting. To plant your seedling make a hole in the soil the approximate size of the seedling 'plug'. You need to push the soil in around the roots firmly with your fingers to get good contact with the soil. Dont firm down on the top of the soil as this can compact it and prevent moisture getting down to the plants roots.
Water the plants after planting but do not soak them. You are better to transplant on a dull day or in the evening to prevent the plants wilting on a hot, dry day.
Endive Seedling Care
Keep your seedlings moist but do not over water. You are actually far better to under rather than over water your plants. This may sound odd but making the roots search for water helps to develop a better root system. It's a bit like keeping fit.
You do need to be careful, however, not to let the compost plug completely dry out or it will form a crust on top and won't absorb the moisture the next time you water.
It will all depend on the weather of course but on a hot day you will need to water twice a day, if it's it's dull every 2 days will be fine.
Dry weather can cause endive to run to seed or 'bolt'. When a plant bolts it will produce a tall seed head, when this happenes it's all over, you'll be digging it up and starting again.
To avoid bolting keep your plants well watered and the soil moist.
I know you're probably groaning seeing seeing a picture of a hoe but it you do it often it is pretty much effortless. In fact I bet you'll enjoy it.
My favourite tool by a country mile is the oscillating hoe, it's an old fashioned tool that works beautifully.
Weeds compete with your plants for water, nutrients and light. After all, you will probably have gone to some effort improving the fertility of your soil, why give all the that goodness to the weeds?
Fungal disease can be a problem for some crops and weeds can contribute to this by cutting down the air circulation around your plants. Plants with good, clear space between them will be much healthier than congested crops.
You will also find hoeing makes your crops grow better. This is because it breaks up the top layer of the soil and lets air and moisture circulate freely. Hoeing does a lot more than clear weeds, believe me. Love your hoe, keep at it regularly and it's a breeze.
Endive needs to be blanched to remove the bitterness from the leaves and to achieve the traditional yellow / white colour. Some modern varieties don't need blanching but come on, it's half the fun, no?
The recommended way of blanching is to pull the outer leaves over the centre of the plant and tie together with string 2 weeks or so before you harvest. You then cover the centre of the plant with a plate which gives the familiar 'sunburst' look.
You can also just cover the whole plant with a bucket about 10 days before harvest time which works just as well (That's my preferred method).
Pests and diseases
Endive is susceptible to the same pests and diseases as lettuce, but may not be attacked. Slugs, and sometimes leaf aphids can be problems.
Cut the whole head from the plant when blanched or you can use individual leaves from your immature plants.
Once harvested it won't keep for long so pick when you need it. If you harvest a head in the morning it will keep for longer. This is because plants 'breath in' and take in moisture at night and 'breath out' and release moisture in the daytime.