24) Growing chicory (Endive, Belgian endive, French endive, witlof, witloof)

Chicory is a typical winter veggie. You can harvest “witloof” when there is a thick layer of snow outdoors.

In this tip:

  • A)# Chicory species
  • B)# Sowing chicory in mid spring (May)
  • C)# Green Chicory plants in the garden
  • D)# Harvesting green Chicory plants
  • E)# “Treating” Chicory plants
  • F)# Putting Chicory roots in a flower pot with compost
  • G)# Adding water
  • H)# On flower pot dish and strewing sand on
  • I)# Flower pot with roots in the dark
  • J)# Harvesting witloof heads.
  • K)# Growing temperature
  • L)# New witloof heads on “used” chicory roots?
  • M)# Aphids on witloof heads
  • N)# Bitter
  • O)# Growing witloof heads in garden earth
  • P)# Storing chicory roots
  • Q)# Forcing witloof with earth coverage (in flower pot).
  • R)# Few new witloof heads on dried Chicory roots (after first harvest)
  • S)# Root ball after growing witloof
  • T)# Last witloof forcing with purple or brown outer leaves
  • U)# Used Chicory roots on compost heap
  • V)# Experiment: forcing witloof heads in the air at a Chicory species needing earth coverage.
  • W)# 1 witloof head in 1 small flower pot

Growing chicory consists of 2 parts:

  1. In spring (May), chicory seed is sown in the garden soil. The seeds will germinate and big chicory plants will grow in the garden. A full-grown plant has big oblong green leaves and a gray/brown coloured root.
  2. In autumn to early winter (September to January) plants are taken out of the soil. Greatest part of the green leaves is cut off until about 3 centimeters (1.2 inch) above the root. And the root is shortened to about 25 centimeters (10 inch). Further in this tip you can read why.

On the photos above you see “treated” chicory plants with short roots and trimmed and thinned leaves, so called “chicory roots”.

You can buy such chicory roots (via internet) when you don’t have grown them yourselves.

At “normal species” of chicory, the chicory roots are put in a shallow pit in the garden soil. Some earth is strewn between the chicory roots. Then a layer of garden earth or straw is put over the chicory roots. Layer thickness is about 6 to 8 inch. On each root there grows a small head. The heads are white/light yellow because they grow in the dark. The leaves grow in a head form due to the pressure of the straw or the earth above them. This method is called “growing with earth coverage“.

At special chicory species, there is no need for a thick layer of straw or earth during growing. The chicory roots are put in big flowerpots with garden soil or compost in it. The pots are placed in the dark.  On each root, a small white (or light yellow) head grows “just in the air”. This method is called “growing without earth coverage“.

Growing chicory without earth coverage is the most simple method and is described in this post.

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Below some photos of my witloof, grown with or without earth coverage.

You can put “chicory roots” in a big flower pot filled with compost. Then you can grow witloof heads on these roots.

When you put on a bottomless flower pot and you strew much garden sand (through the “open bottom”) on the roots you get “a lot of sand on top of the roots”. Then you can grow witloof “with earth coverage”.

When you don’t put on the pot and garden sand, you can grow witloof heads in the air (so without earth coverage). Of course in a dark area.

See photos above. The left witloof grew with earth coverage, the right witloof without earth coverage. More info about forcing witloof with earth coverage in chapter Q)#. 

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Witloof grows in the dark

In the light, loose green leaves grow on chicory roots. The leaves form a group but no head.

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A)# Chicory species

I use this species of chicory (without earth coverage). At the back side of the sachet, the species name “Videna” has been printed. The (English) tekst “for forcing” means no earth coverage.

I also used 2 other species “without earth coverage”: Zoom F1 and Focus F1. The seeds of all 3 species resulted in healty chicory plants.  Good, big witloof heads grew on the roots. More info about chicory seed in tip    40) Info on a seed package   .

On the internet there is much info about about chicory forcing, for example   this site  .

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B)# Sowing chicory in mid spring (May)

Mid spring (May) is the right period to sow chicory in the garden soil. You can find that on the seed package or on the internet.

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My experience from 2020; sowing Chicory seeds earlier goes well too;

  • Chicory seeds germinate faster. The garden soil and the seeds do not dry out so fast at some lower temperatures.
  • There is little or no snail-eating at the small plants. It is colder so there are less snails or slugs in the garden.
  • In autumn these plants have the same size as when sown later.

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Chicory grows well in (sandy) soil with little humus. So use a part of your garden that contains little or no manure or compost. The earth must be loose to get straight roots. Spaded soil is okay.

B1) Making a furrow and spraying water in the furrow

  • Put a string or elastic band above the garden soil so you can sow in a straight line.
  • Or put a nylon string with knots (every 10 or 15 centimeters, 4 or 6 inch) above the soil. More info about this string in tip   38) Sowing groups of seeds     .
  • Use a garden spade to loose the soil deeply under the string. Or use a garden trowel. Push the trowel in the soil, move it aside (wiggle) to loosen the soil, pull it out of the soil, push it in the soil a few inches further, etcetera.

  • Make a shallow  furrow in the garden soil, under string. You can use a “furrow board” or 2 margarine boxes (in each other, upside down) to do this.
  • Make the furrow about 5 centimeters (2 inch) deep and 8 centimeters (3 1/4  inch) wide.
  • Sowing in a furrow has many advantages; easy watering, less drying out and the furrow indicates the sowing spots.

  • Water the soil in the furrow:
    • Remove the string or elastic band so it will not get wet during watering.
    • Or carefully water the soil next to the string or elastic band.
    • Hold the shower of the watering can close to the soil during watering. Watering like this prevents the garden soil from clogging.
  • Let the water drop into the soil before sowing.

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B2) Sowing chicory at fixed distances

Chicory plants get big and need much room to grow. You better sow chicory seeds in groups. Each group contains about 10 chicory seeds. Between the groups there is about 15 centimeters (6 inch).

Later on, remove small chicory plants until there is 1 chicory plant per group. In each group, this remaining plant grows into a big chicory plant.

  • You can put a nylon string (with knots each 4 or 6 inch) next to the furrow. Use the knots in this string to sow the groups of seeds at fixed distances. More info about this string in tip   38) Sowing groups of seeds     .
  • Or use a lath or stick or folding ruler to indicate the sowing spots.
  • Or sow the seeds by hand at more or less fixed distances.

  • Strew chicory seeds in a white tray so seeds are clearly visible.
  • Or strew chicory seeds on (in) one hand.
  • Each time grab a few chicory seeds between thumb and index finger (out of the tray or your (other) hand).

  • Lay or strew about 10 seeds (one after another) in a row or in a group on the bottom of the furrow.
  • Lay the seeds “across the furrow”. So from one long side of the furrow towards the other long side of the furrow.
  • Strew one group or one row of seeds each 15 centimeters (6 inch).
  • When you use a string with knots each 10 centimeters (4 inch), sow “near a knot” and “between 2 knots” alternately. This results in a distance of 15 centimeters (6 inch) between the groups.

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Remark:

On the sachet, 10 centimeters (4 inch) distance between the plants is recommended. But 15 centimeters (6 inch) is better. At a distance of 15 centimeters (6 inch) there is less risk of big plants having some rotting outer green leaves.

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B3) Strewing moist earth

  • Strew some moist finely crushed garden earth on the seeds in the furrow. Layer thickness about 0.5 centimeters (1/4 inch). You can fill a small plastic flower pot with a little moist earth and strew the earth through the bottom holes of the pot.

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B4) Covering the furrow

  • It is good to cover the furrow with pieces of corrugated plate or a band of fabric. This prevents seeds from drying out at dry weather or from washing away during heavy showers. Remove this covering when first chicory plants are above the soil.

Wait until chicory plants are shot up.

Two groups of small chicory plants, a few days after cropping up.

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B5) Thinning

When plants in the furrow are 5 to 15 centimeters (2 to 6 inch) high, thin out until per group 2 chicory plants are left. When possible 2 plants that are “far apart”. That’s better at the next thinning out. Water the plants after thinning.

(You can use the pulled out chicory plants to replant else where in the garden soil, for example on empty spots in a row or in a new row. See chapter B6).

After some weeks, pull out smallest plant of each pair. So one plant, the biggest one, remains in the soil. Water the plant after thinning.

When there is only one plant shot up in a group, thinning is not necessary, of course.

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B6) Replanting pulled out plants at empty spots 

It can happen that no plants have been shot up in a group. Or accidently you pulled out all plants during thinning out. Or a mole has undermined the furrow and many seeds or plants are gone.

You can replant chicory plants at the empty spots in a row or in a new row. Using the pulled out (thinned) plants is very useful. Do as follows:

  • Use a garden trowel to make a planting hole in the soil.

  • One pulled out chicory plant (from thinning).

  • Put the Chicory plant in the planting hole.
  • Fill the planting hole with garden earth.
  • Cut or tear off the top parts of the leaves. So less water evaporation via the leaves and faster growing in the garden soil.
  • Right after replanting, water the plants and the soil.
  • Let the plant grow bigger.

When you want to replant many Chicory plants, or when you want to form a new row from the pulled out plants, you can do as follows.

  • Cut the leaves and the root of each plant shorter to reduce the evaporation of water so the plant grows better after replanting.
  • Put the trimmed plants in a bucket filled with a few centimeters ( 1 inch) of water. In this way the Chicory plants can be stored for as long as 10 days before planting out.

  • Spray water on the (dry) garden soil when needed.
  • Put a (plastic) tube in the moist soil. Diameter of the tube is about 4 centimeters (1  5/8 inch). Depth in the soil is about 20 centimeters (8 inch).

  • Take the tube out of the soil.
  • Put in the Chicory plant

  • Hold the plant at the right heigth.
  • Meanwhile push garden earth against the root of the plant; you can push sideward with a garden trowel.
  • Get the garden trowel out of the soil and fill the “trowel hole” with garden earth.

  • Spray water on the soil and on the plant.

  • You can make a long row of Chicory plants from the pulled out plants during thinning.

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B7) Growing big

Chicory is an easy plant. Each week, hoe between the furrows and weed in the furrow between the (small) plants. When plants are big, hoeing and weeding is not needed anymore. Only pull out big weed plants.

Water small Chicory plants now and then. Water big plants at long droughts.

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C)# Green Chicory plants in the garden

End of summer (August).  Two rows with big chicory plants.

When plants are large, few weeds will grow between them. Thanks to the long root, the plant will not dry out so easy . The big leaves prevent the soil from drying out too fast. Only water the big plants at long droughts.

End of summer (August).  Between the plants these kind of leaves are on the soil.  That is okay.

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D)# Harvesting green chicory plants

From early autumn (September) on, you can take the plants out of the soil. Use a spade or a fork.

In early autumn you can take the plants out of the garden soil and have them laying on the ground or the garden soil for about 5 to 10 days. During this time, nutrients will go from the leaves to the root (I read somewhere on the internet).

Lay the plants in a single, a double or a triple row on the ground. Lay foliage of the next plant on the roots of previous plant to protect the roots from drying out by sun heat. You will end with “bare”roots. Lay a plastic tray or wooden board or something like that on these roots.

From mid autumn (October) on, you can take the plants out of the soil and take them home immediately for further processing. The plants do not have to lay on the soil for some days then.

Spread the witloof harvest by frequently digging out the plants between early autumn and early winter. Put the digged roots in flower pots with compost.

After digging out Chicoree plants, use a big spade to remove as many Chicoree root parts from the soil as possible. Oherwise many undesired Chicoree plants will grow on the garden soil next spring.

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E)# “Treating” Chicory plants

To grow witloof heads, you need “treated” Chicory plants. Below a short description of the “treatments”. Further in this tip there are step by step descriptions.

  • At each Chicory plant shorten the root to about 20 centimeters (8 inch).
  • At each Chicory plant remove many outer leaves.
  • Cut a big part of the remaining leaves until about 3 centimeters (1.2 inch) length.
  • You end up with Chicory plants that look like the ones on the photo above (in the washing-up bowl).

  • Put the “treated” Chicory plants (Chicory roots) in a flower pot filled with compost.

  • On each Chicory root, a witloof head can grow in the dark. (Attention: these roots are not the same roots as 1 photo back).

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E1) Shortening the roots

  • Nine Chicory plants right after digging up. They have long green leaves and long (and/or branched) roots.

  • Most Chicory plants have roots that are too long to fit in a big flower pot (filled with compost).
  • So shorten the roots of the Chicory plants. You can use a sharp knife and a wooden board to do this.
  • And break off side roots when needed.

  • The same 9 Chicory plants with treated (trimmed) roots.
  • There are Chicory plants with one straight thick root.
  • And Chicory plants with many thin roots next to each other.

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E2) Breaking off the outer green leaves

It is wise to break off many outer green leaves at each Chicory plant. Reasons:

  • The outer leaves are not needed for the growing the Witloof heads.
  • The outer (short) leaves dry up, get brown and (sometimes) rot and smell bad.
  • The photo above shows witloof heads grown on roots with outer leaves.

  • Chicory plants growing in the garden soil. The inner green leaves are shorter than the outer green leaves. The inner leaves form the “heart” of the Chicory plant

  • A Chicory plant with shortened root.

  • Break off many outer leaves of the Chicory plant.

  • Cut the remaining leaves short to a length of about 3 centimeters (1.2 inch).

  • This treated Chicory plant has a shorter root and few short inner leaves.
  • It can be put in a big flowerpot filled with compost to grow a witloof head on.

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  • The same nine “treated” Chicory plants, ready to grow witloof heads.

  • And a big bucket filled with Chicory leaves and pieces of root.

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Remark 1:

It can occur that the inner leaves grow higher on the root than the outer leaves. When you break off the outer leaves, this becomes visible. See photos below;

  • Chicory plant with short root, before breaking off the leaves.

  • Many outer leaves have been broken off.
  • Next step is cutting the inner leaves shorter.

  • It is clearly visible that the inner leaves grow higher on the root than the outer leaves.

So first breaking off many outer green leaves and then shortening the inner leaves works well at these Chicory plants too.

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Remark 2:

When you are sure that all green leaves grow at the same level on the root, you can reverse the treatment. First cut all green leaves short, then break off outer short leaves;

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Remark 3:

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  • How to shorten “weird roots” at Chicory plants.

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  • You can clean a “rot” Chicory plant before growing a Witloof head on.

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Remark 4:

How many short leaves are needed (on a Chicory root) to grow a good witloof head? See the answer below.

  • On the left side photo a flower pot with 9 Chicory roots having no, few or many short leaves.
  • On the right side photo the witloof heads that grew on these roots.

  • The 9 witloof heads that grew on the Chicory roots;
    • On the root with “no short leaves”, a few small thin heads grew (far left on the photo above).
    • On the other roots, good, big, normal witloof heads have grown.

So you can break off many outer leaves; at each root with short leaves, a normal head grew.

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F)# Putting Chicory roots in a flower pot filled with compost

F1) Putting straight roots in compost

Needed: Straight chicory roots, a big plastic flowerpot, a bucket with “loose”compost and a planting dibber.

  • Put compost in the flower pot until about 0.5 centimeters (o.2 inch) below the edge.
  • Gently push on the top of the compost (with the bottom of another flower pot) to compress the compost a little.

  • Make a round deep hole in the compost.
    • Push the dibber in the compost until its point reaches the bottom of the flower pot.
    • Wiggle the dibber in the compost to make a \ / shaped hole.
    • Carefully pull the dibber out of the compost, so no compost will fall in the hole.
  • Put a chicory root in the hole.
  • Push the root down when needed.

  • Continue putting in roots until there is no more space in the pot. Or until there are no Chicory roots left.
  • Between the Chicory roots in the pot there are a few centimeters (about 1 inch) distance. The top of each root is above the top level of the compost. And the compost is about 1 centimeter (0.5 inch) below the edge of the flower pot. All these things make the growing of witloof heads very airy, so little chance of rotting.

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Remarks:

  • Is a root too high in the compost, take the root out. Cut a piece of the lower side of the root. Put the root back in the compost.
  • Is a root too deep in compost, take the root out. Put some compost in the hole. Put the root back in the compost.
  • Are 2 roots too close to each other, shove them aside in the compost.
  • For thin roots, use a thin dibber or a broomstick to make the holes in compost.
  • Lift the flower pot a few inches and drop it on a floor or pavement. This makes more compost “move” between the roots.
  • When needed, strew some compost between the chicory roots in the flower pot. You can use a spoon to do this.

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F2) Putting multiple roots in compost

  • Lay an empty flower pot slanting on a brick or something like that. Strew some compost in the pot against the “lowest side” of the pot.
  • Lay a chicory root with many small roots on the layer of compost.
  • Then each time strew compost on and between the roots and lay new roots on the compost.
  • Continue until the pot is full of compost and chicory roots.
  • Put the flower pot upright.
  • When needed, push, pull, move, or shove the roots until they are good in teh compost.
  • Lift the flower pot a few inches and drop it on a floor or pavement. This makes more compost “move” between the roots.
  • When needed, strew some compost between the chicory roots in the flower pot. You can use a spoon to do this.

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Remark:

  • When you want to put multiple Chicory roots andstraight Chicory roots in the same flower pot:
    • First lay all multiple roots on (in) compost in a slanting pot. Fill the slanting pot with compost until full. Put the flower pot upright. Make holes in the compost and put straight roots in the holes.

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G)# Adding water

  • Fill a watering can with cold tap water. Pour or spray much cold water over and between the chicory roots. Water may flow over the short leaves. In this way short laves are rinsed clean.
  • Move or spread the roots when desired. In the wet compost you can move the roots easily. When roots are too close to each other, chicory heads can touch each other. These witloof heads can rot or brown spots can appear on the white leaves.
  • Let the water fall in the compost.
  • Pour or spray water on until the compost is wet through and a lot of water has flown through the holes in the bottom of the flower pot.
  • Wait for about 24 hours to let most water flow out of the flower pot.

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H)# Put the flower pot on a dish and strew dry sand on compost

  • After the 24 hours of waiting, put the pot on a dish. This prevents water from dripping on the floor of the dark cellar or barn or garage.
  • Later on, during witloof growth, you can pour water in this dish when the compost is too dry.

  • Put a layer of dry sand (garden sand, masonry sand or sandbox sand) on the compost. Layer thickness about 1 cm (0.5 inch). This reduces rotting of the chicory heads. Dry sand forms a barrier between the wet compost and the dry witloof heads. Also less earth worms wil crawl from the compost into the chicory heads. That’s better during cutting or eating the chicory harvest.
  • The compost and the sand in the flower pot will dry out. Most of the time there is enough water in the compost to grow big witloof heads.
  • When the compost might be too dry, pour some water in the flowerpot dish. Or make a small hole in the sand, “far away from the roots”, and pour some water in this hole.
  • Caution; don’t wet the heads or the roots during watering. This can cause rotting or brown leaves at the heads.

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I)# Flower pot with roots in the dark

The chicory heads must grow in the dark at about 15 C (59 F). Put the flower pot with roots in a “dark place” in a cellar, cool barn, cool garage, cool bedroom, cool kitchen or so.

Then make a “pitch dark area” to have white heads growing.

I1) A dark area made or black cardboard, paper clips and clothes pegs; a black cylinder

Needed: 2 sheets of black cardboard (50 x 70 centimeters), 8 clothes pegs, 8 paper clips.

  • Make a “cylinder” out of 2 sheets of (black) cardboard.
  • Fasten the cardboard sheets together (on top) using 4 paperclips.
  • The cylinder heighth is about 50 centimeters (1 ft   8 inch).

  • Turn the cylinder upside down.
  • Fasten the cardboard sheets together (on top) using 4 paperclips.

  • Connect 3 clothespegs.

  • When needed you can fix an extra clothespeg (the whole turned on this photo)
  • Make 2 “clothespeg things”.

Clamp the “clothespegs things” on the edges of the outer cardboard sheet.

  • Put the cardboard cylinder over the flower pot with Chicory roots.

  • Put a low cardboard box (for example the low box from the garden shop) upside down over the cardboard cylinder.
  • The edge of the cylinder is pushed inside when laying the cardboard box on. The box keeps the cylinder in a round or oval shape. The whole gets rigid.
  • The dark area is ready for use and witloof forcing can start.

Remarks:

  • When you don’t have a low cardboard box to lay on the cylinder, you can make one yourself;

  • Use a sheet of cardboard. Make an outer edge. Fix the edge using staples.

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  • Put the flower pot with dark area at a “dark spot” in a cellar, cool barn, cool garage, cool bed room or kitchen. Temperature between 15 and 20 C (59 to 68 F).
  • You can turn the cylinder to have the air openings towards dark. Only little light enters the cylinder.
  • This cardboard dark area is rather big and the air inside is dry. This makes the witloof heads grow with no or only few brown spots on the leaves.
  • You can lift the lid (low cardboard box) to check the witloof forcing.
  • You can cut sheets from a “normal brown cardboard box” instead of using black cardboard sheets.

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I2) Put another flower pot and dish on

  • For this dark space you need another big (black) plastic flower pot and a (black) plastic dish. Put the second flower pot upside down on the flower pot with roots. Lay the dish upside down on the upper flower pot.
  • In the bottom of the upper pot, not all holes are on the same level. Some holes are lower than the other ones. The lower holes are not blocked by the plastic dish laying on. These holes form the air openings needed to have the heads grow on the roots.

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J)# Harvesting witloof heads

  1. You can harvest a witloof head by breaking it off the root while the root is still in the compost.
  2. Or you take the root with head out of the compost. And break or cut the head from the root.
  3. Or you cut off the head about 1 inch above the root.

The 3rd method is new. After harvesting you can grow new heads on the roots again. At some species this goes better than at other species of Chicory. More info further in this tip.

All 3 procedures are described below. And you can read what procedure is easiest.

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J1) Breaking off while root is in compost

  • Fold the short leaves down at one side of the root, at the front side.

  • Bend the chicory head to the front.  Turn, bend and pull the head until it breaks off from the root. Meanwhile hold the root with the other hand.

  • The roots and the harvested witloof heads.
  • You don’t have to harvest all heads at the same time. You can have a few heads on the roots for later harvest.

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J2) Taking out a root, cut off or brake the head

  • Carefully pull the root with head out of the compost.

  • Chicory root with witloof head.

  • Break off or cut off the head from the root.
  • When broken off, there can be a part of the root attached to the head. Use a knife to cut the part of the root off.

  • You need not to harvest all heads at the same time. You can keep some roots with heads in the compost. Put compost in the flower pot to fill the empty space. Strew sand on the compost. Put the whole (on a dish) in a dark space until next harvest. Pour water on the dish when needed.

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J3) (Elastic band around the head), cut the witloof leaves 1 inch above the root

  • Put an elastic band around the heads. The elastic band prevents the head from falling apart after cutting.
  • Cut each witloof head about 1 inch above the root.
  • Store the witloof heads (leaves) with elastic band in a refrigerator when not used immediately.

You need not to harvest all heads at the same time. You can keep some roots with heads in the compost until next harvest. But don’t wait too long for the next harvest when you want to have a next witloof forcing (growth) on these roots. When you wait too long, you have big heads (of the next forcing) and freshly cut roots in teh same flower pot. Not so good.

Some witloof leaves can “shift” (see the left head on the photo). This is due to the tension of the elastic band around the head. Hold the head with topside up and tap with the lower side on a cutting board to get the leaves good again.

You can cut the witloof heads without putting a string around; then hold the witloof head in one hand during cutting and afterward. Treat the cut witloof head carefully.

After a few hours the cutting surface of the witloof can get brownish. See photo above. Cut a thin slice before preparing the witloof.

At some Chicory species, new heads can grow in the dark on the roots after cutting off the witloof heads. See chapter L)# New witloof heads on “used” chicory roots ?

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J4) Easiest harvesting procedure

The photo’s above show that “pulling out the root with head and then cutting off the witloof head” is the easiest method.

But (putting an elastic band around the head and) cutting off the heads above the root goes well too. After this harvest you can let new heads grow on the roots. Note: not at all Chicory species. See description in N)# New witloof heads on “used” chicory roots?

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K)# Growing temperature

Witlof heads grow well between 15 and 20 C (59 and 68 F). After 4 to 7 weeks there are good witloof heads that don’t taste bitter.

  • At a higher temperature the heads are loose, thin and tate more bitter.
  • At a lower temperature the heads grow slower.

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L)# New witloof heads on “used” chicory roots?

After harvesting, a flower pot with chicory roots remains. Can new witloof heads grow on these used roots again?

L1) Heads have been broken off

  • After breaking off the heads, some roots are “kept as they were”. At other roots all short leaves have been broken away ot the top has been cut.
  • Next step is pouring much water between the roots until the compost is soaking wet. After 1 day the flower pot with chicory roots has been put in the dark again.

  • The grown witloof heads.

You can grow witloof heads after the first harvest on broken off Chicory roots. But at the second growth (forcing), there are many small heads on a root. Not one big head. Reason; during the first harvest the “heart” (growing point) has been broken or cut away.

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L2) Heads have been cut off

L2a) First harvest

  • First harvest, 1150 grams of witloof.

  • Chicory roots after cutting off the heads.
  • Pour much cold water in the pot to moisten the compost.

  • Experiment: at 5 roots, many short leaves have been broken away (at 4 roots not done).
  • Next step: forcing witloof heads in the dark again.

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L2b) Second harvest

  • Second harvest, 980 grams of witloof.

  • At 5 Chicory roots, many short outer leaves have been broken off.
  • The flower pot with compost and roots has been immerged in water during 30 minutes to moisten the compost (because when pouring water on the compost, water quickly flows towards the bottom holes of the pot; the compost is not soaked).
  • Next step: forcing witloof heads in the dark again.

.

L2c) Third harvest

  • Third harvest, 670 grams of witloof. Witloof heads have been broken off now (because this is the last harvest).

.

Conclusions;

  • On the same Chicory root you can grow a witloof head, up to 3 times after another.
  • Each time cut the witloof leaves from the root. Don’t cut “too short”.
  • After cutting off, soak the compost with Chicory roots. When needed, immerge the flower pot with compost in cold water.
  • Each next harvest results in less witloof.

After each witloof harvest it is good to break off many outer short leaves. The short white outer leaves are rather tight and can hinder the forcing of new heads.

  • After cutting off the witloof head (leaves) you can cut the short leaves rectangly.

Both procedures (breaking off outer short leaves or cutting rectangularly) works well and result in goed witloof heads.

.

In some cases there is no good witloof head growing after cutting off. No normal head grows on the root.

The cause is the Chicory variety:

Two flower pots with new grown witloof heads after the first “cut off harvest”. Two different varieties; the left pot contains “Videna, “the right “Focus F1”. At Videna there are many small heads, at Focus there are only big ones.

Or the cause is a late harvest:

Witloof heads of “Focus F1” in February (mid to late winter). This is the first (and the only) harvest after putting in the roots in compost. After cutting the heads, you can see that the “heart”of the chicory root has been cut; at each root there is a round core in the middle and schort leaves around it. Each witloof head had a long, high core.

.

So:

Cutting witloof heads and growing new big heads on the roots goes well most of the time. But at some varieties or at a late harvest (end of the winter) you get loose small heads all around on the root.

.

M)# Little aphids

  • At these roots no short outer leaves have been broken away after the first harvest. You see  dark brown leaves on the root.
  • These witloof heads don’t look “healty”.

  • Many broken off witloof heads have brown sticky short leaves.
  • On the heads you see small spots.

  • Those spots are aphids. Easily to remove with a washing-up brush under running tap water. But still a problem.

.

Learnings:

  • When you did not remove short outer leaves, and/or
  • the compost in the flower pot is (too) moist and/or
  • you have bad luck,
  • it can happen that grown witloof heads don’t look “very healty”. Short leaves can be brown and moist. There can be aphids on the leaves of ht witloof.

Removing outer short leaves (or “cutting rectangular”) is a wise action before each witloof forcing.

.

N)# Bitter

Sometimes your own grown chicory tastes more bitter than expected. The bitter taste is concentrated in the “core” of the chicory head, the lower part of the head. You can cut away this part of the head. Or add milk at the cooking water.

Chicory heads grown at higher temperature, above 21 C (70 F) taste more bitter than grown at lower temperature, between 10 and 20 C, 50 and 68 F   .

.

O)# Growing in garden earth

You can fill a flower pot with garden earth instaed of compost. And put chicory roots in it. In garden earth good witloof heads grow too. But garden earth will dry out faster than compost. So compost is more handy than garden earth (no or few water addition needed).

.

P)# Storing chicory roots

Chicory plants in your garden soil can withstand frosty nights. But they do suffer from severe frost. So harvest the plants not too late.

When you have taken many chicory roots out of the garden, you better not use all roots for witloof forcing. Because then you get too many heads in one time. You better store the roots before forcing. You can do this as follows;

  • “Treat” all Chicory plants (shorten roots, remove outer green leaves, shorten residual leaves).
  • Put all Chicory roots in flower pots filled with compost. Spray water on, strew dry garden earth (sand) on.
  • Put all flower pots (with Chicory roots) dark and cold;
    • In a dark area; cardboard cylinder with top box or flower pot upside down put on.
    • At a cool area; in winter outside under a roof when not freezing, in a barn or garage during freezing weather.
  • When you want to grow witloof heads, put the flower pot in a room at 15 to 20 C (59 to 68 F), in a dark area.

.

Q)# Forcing witloof with earth coverage (in flower pot).

You can force witloof heads while there is earth above the Chicory roots. That goes well in a flower pot. Below some photos of my witloof forced that way.

  • Needed: Flower pot with Chicory roots in moist compost, a loose flower pot cylinder (cut from a flower pot) and a bucket fulll of garden sand or garden earth.

  • Put the flower pot cylinder on the compost in the flower pot. Put dry garden sand (garden earth) on the Chicory roots.
  • Lay a clothespin on top of the sand and put a dish on the flower pot cylinder. This forms an air opening.
  • Put a brick on the dish to prevent the pot cylinder from moving up during forcing (and dry sand will “flow away”).

  • Harvest: use pincers to remove the pot cylinder (the cylinder can get stuck during forcing, so pincers needed).
  • Remove the garden earth between the witloof heads.

  • Witloof heads with earth coverage (left side flower pot) and without earth coverage (right side pot). Both forcings have been started at the same date.
  • The witloof heads grown with earth coverage are very “compact” and “steady”. There is garden earth on and between the outer leaves of the heads. Some witlof leaves show brown edges or spots.
  • The witloof heads grown “in the free air” are a little loose. And very clean.

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R)# Few new witloof heads on dried Chicory roots (after first harvest)

In a reaction (in Sjeftuintips), there was asked if you can dry Chicory roots for a long time after harvesting (break off or cut off the heads). And start a new forcing again. I have tried out;

Witloof harvest; heads, roots and a bucket with compost. When harvesting, 4 heads have been cut, 6 heads have been broken off.

At all (4) cut Chicory roots;

  • at 4 roots some outer short leaves have been broken off.
  • at 2 roots, short leaves have been cut “square”,
  • at 2 other roots the short leaves have not been cut square.

The same 10 Chicory roots, 35 days dried outside under a roof. (Cardboard box turned)

The 10 roots have been put in a flower pot with dry compost. Compost has been wetted with cold water.

Dry sand has been strewed on top of the moist compost. A new forcing has started.

On the left side photo the Chicory roots after putting in compost. On the right side photo the witloof heads after 40 days of dark cool forcing. The flower pot on right has been turned clockwise a little.

At one root (with many short leaves), a good witloof head has been grown on. At 4 roots there are mini heads. At 5 roots there are no heads grown on.

Conclusion; drying Chicory roots (for a long time) between harvest and befor next forcing is not good. Roots can dry out so much that no head will grow on anymore.

.

S)# Root ball after growing witloof

A big root ball after forcing witlof heads.

.

T)# Last witloof forcing with purple or brown outer leaves

At the last Chicory roots (digged out in January 2020, mid winter) there were witloof heads with purple or brown spots on the outer leaves. After breaking off many outer leaves, there are good witloof heads. Below some pictures.

Purple spots on the outer leaves.

Brown spots on the outer leaves.

.

U)# Used Chicory roots on compost heap

You better cut the (not used) Chicory roots in small pieces or slices. Let these pieces dry for a few weeks. Then put them on a compost heap under a layer of fresh plant waste. Check if the Chicory material decomposes, so no Witloof heads will grow on.

.

V)# Experiment: forcing witloof heads in the air at a Chicory species needing earth coverage.

An allotment colleague had sown Chicory seeds in the garden soil to grow witloof heads in the dark in the air later.

But the used variety of Chicory (“Mechelse midvroeg”) requires coverage with mould and straw (earth and straw) when forcing the witloof heads. See info on the seed package (photo above). So my colleague had used the “wrong” variety.

As an experiment I have put Chicory roots of my allotment colleague (“Mechelse midvroeg”) in a flower pot filled with compost. Witloof heads have grown on these roots in the air and in the dark. Below some photos.

Witlof heads variety of Chicory (“Mechelse midvroeg”), grown in the dark in the air. See white identification strip left side.

Two flower pots with witloof heads grown in the dark in the air;

  • Left flower pot (“Mechelse midvroeg”), a variety that requires coverage.
  • Right flower pot (“Focus F1”), a variety that grows well in the air.

Harvest of witloof heads variety (“Mechelse midvroeg”); 900 grams. The heads are more loose.

Left over after the harvest; thick and thin roots, flower pot with compost, broken leaves with brown spots, little strip.

Conclusion: On the thick roots witloof heads are a little loose. On thin roots, heads are rather loose.

Another flowerpot with (“Mechelse midvroeg”) heads grown in the air in the dark. Grown on thick Chicory roots.

The witloof heads grown on these thick Chicory roots are rather “solid” (not very loose).

The heads have been cut from the roots to let new heads grow on the roots again. After the harvest short leaves on the roots have been cut slanting.

The flower pot with Chicory roots have been immersed in a bucket filled with water. To make the compost in the pot wet. After this step, new witloof heads have grown in the dark in the air on these roots. See below;

The witloof heads (“Mechelse midvroeg”) grown in the dark in the air. There are 3 high loose heads on 3 roots. And many thin short leaves on 5 other roots.

Conclusion: At this variety (“Mechelse midvroeg”) you have to cut high when you do a “cutting harvest”. Otherwise you remove the “heart” of the Chicory root, resulting in many small witloof leaves (instead of a big witloof head). The second harvest (after a cutting harvest) consists of loose witloof heads.

So at this variety, you better grow heads only once after digging out the roots.

.

W)# 1 witloof head in 1 small flower pot

You can put 1 short Chicory root in a small flower pot filled with compost. Spray water on, let drain and put a tray under the flower pot. Put a black flower pot over it. After a while there is a good witloof head grown on.

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37 thoughts on “24) Growing chicory (Endive, Belgian endive, French endive, witlof, witloof)”

  1. Incredible, I had no idea the work involved to grow witlof. I planted 4 plants and assumed they just grow in the garden and turn into witlof all by them self. This veggie should be $15 dollars a pound for all the work that goes into it. But Thanks for a great article. It sure was very educational.

  2. Hello Chris,
    Yes, growing witlof is a challenge. I’ve tried many years to grow them, but only last years (from 2012 on) I succeed to have many well tasting normal size witlof heads.
    Greets, Sjef

  3. A very interesting article. I have had more years with little or no success than good ones. Mostly I have always totally covered them and planted them outside against a warm house wall.
    This year I already placed some roots in the manner you have just illustrated. We will see. I may not have given them enough water.

    1. Hi Herman,
      In my Dutch Version (Sjeftuintups) I have more info and photos about this. I will soon add them to the english version.
      After putting the roots in the flower pot, add very much water. The roots must stand in a “mud” of compost and water. Then not water anymore for some weeks. Only add some water when the compost feels very dry.
      Good luck and greetings, Sjef

  4. Hi Sjef! Great article. Thank you very much for the detailed illustration. I will give a go at growing them this summer.

  5. HI SJEF . MY MOTHER LOVES WITLOOF AND I AM TRYING TO GROW SOME FOR HER HERE IN AUSTRALIA . THANKS FOR THE INFORMATIVE TIPS FOR GROWING AND LIKE CHRIS HAD NO IDEA THERE WAS SO MUCH WORK INVOLVED IN GROWING WITLOOF. HERE WE PAY ABOUT FOUR TO FIVE DOLLARS FOR TWO HEADS . I CAN SEE IT MAY BE EASIER TO BUY IT THAN GROW IT BUT I WILL GO AHEAD AND SEE HOW IT GOES. REGARDS FROM ED

    1. Hello Ed,
      Yes, I agree that it is much work to grow witloof. First in garden soil and then in a flower pot. But it is worth trying. Growing witloof is more waiting than working. Work is: sowing, thinning, plants out, cutting leafs and roots, in a flower pot, in a dark place.
      In Holland, “hydroculture” witloof costs only about € 1,60 per kilogram. These heads have grown while roots are in a water bath with nutrients. Most people buy these.
      Soil-grown chicory costs about 5 to 10 euro per kg. These heads grew with roots in soil.
      Concerning the price you pay, it can be profitable to try it.
      Good luck.
      Greets, Sjef

  6. Hello Sjef, I am very impressed by your fantastic report on how to grow witloof. I will be trying it for the first time this year. Regards, John

  7. Sjef
    I just came across your article as I’m not happy with my results. Here is a picture of what the situation looks like now.
    Thanks for any help
    Herman

    (From Sjef: the picture is to be seen at chapter T)# of this post).

    1. Hello Herman,
      I have put your witloof photo at chapter T)# of this post.
      As you mentioned in your mail, you can follow the advice of the Dutch gardner. Have the witloof heads grow some longer in your bucket until they are big enough.
      But when you have some more chicory roots left, you can grow heads following the “Sjef way”.
      Or you can take a few roots (with small heads) out of your bucket, put them in a flower pot with compost and then follow the “Sjef way”.
      Good luck and greets,
      Sjef

  8. Brilliant article. I needed basics for a book I am working on (I am an editor, not author), and got it in spades. Thank you very much. Susan F

  9. Impressive explanation! Other websites refer to a period of storage of the harvested roots, such as 4 weeks at 14 degrees Celcius, before planting in containers and the dark. How long is your recommended storage period and at what temp?
    Peter Reynders
    Temparate climate, Australia

    1. Hello Peter, thanks.
      In early autumn, I harvest the first chicory plants. When dry weather is forcasted, I lay the digged out plants on the garden soil [see chapter D)#].
      They stay there for about 5 to 10 days. Under the weather conditions of that period; temperature between about 5 and 15 C or so.
      At a rainy weather forecast, I lay the plants outside under a roof for 5 to 10 days, so at the same temperatures.
      The digged out plants should not get wet anymore. This can cause rotting of leaves while laying on the soil or on my pavement.
      After this waiting period, foliage is cut, roots are cut etcetera.
      From mid autumn on, I do not store the plants anymore on that way. Right after digging out, foliage is cut, roots are cut and roots are put in the flower pot with compost in it.
      Sjef

  10. Hi, I’m just starting to attempt cultivating witloof now (Oct 2017) here in Ireland & have discovered your magnificent research which I will be following religiously. Congratulations on your amazing piece of work – Nobel prizes have been awarded for less.

  11. Hi Sjef,
    Can you please advise how to store roots in the period between harvesting and starting to grow heads in case I do not want to cultivate heads instantly after root harvesting? Shall I cut leaves off just after harvesting and store them without leaves?
    Many thanks and regards
    Jan

    1. Hello Jan,

      In chapter S)# of this tip (Storing chicory roots), there is described how to store the roots during that period.
      Best storage is to cut the foliage and put the roots in compost in a flower pot. Store the pot with roots in the dark at a dry, cold, non freezing place (temp 0 to 10 C, 32 – 50 F).
      Good luck,
      Sjef

      1. Hello Sjef,
        Thank you for your reply. I appreciate a lot. So I will prepare roots and put them in flower pot and place them in some non freezing place. Since here is still relatively warm weather (15-18 C day, 8-10 C night) I will wait a little for taking out roots from garden bed till temperature starts to approach freezing point during night. Hopefully I will have some good roots. Only 8 plants left, the rest was damaged by water vole ( I should think how to protect them next time) and 1 plant prematurely came to flowering (due to very hot and dry summer weather).
        All the best,
        Jan

      2. I would like to know where I can order chicory roots to start my Belgian garden/crop at home. Please let me know. Thank you.

  12. Sjef, Excellent article.
    My name is Bob and I would like to start my Belgian endive garden. I know that this is cold weather vegetable but we have mild winter here. Where can I buy chicory roots that will produce Belgian endives and roots for producing witloof heads? Thank you for this excellent researched planting method.

    1. Hi Bob, thank you and no thanks.
      I think that witloof heads and Belgian endive (heads) are the same veggie. So growing on the same roots.
      It is rather hard to get the witloof roots, so I grow them myself.
      “You can get the roots directly from chicory farmers or at some farmers stores or garden centers”. That is the answer to
      comments of “talkingalwayz” at this youtube video ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpHnbWFmvQo ) .
      Good luck,
      Sjef

  13. Sjef. Thank you for such a remarkably thorough account of growing endive. I appreciate all of the experiments you documented and updates on your processes. I’m lamenting the fact that I’m reading this now from Boston, MA, USA after a week of the first really solid freezing (now the earth and ponds are frozen) and right before our first real winter snow storm. Had I thought to research this a month ago, I would have been able to dig up the plants from this past summer. I grew a red-veined variety that I enjoy eating green throughout the summer. However, they did go to seed (I’ve left them for the wild turkeys) so they may not have produced much when forced (an experiment nonetheless!). I’ve added the steps for this process to next year’s garden calendar with a reference to your work.
    The one thing that I was wondering is, once potted up, how to hold off forcing so that all don’t produce at one time. I imagine that keeping the roots at a colder temperature would keep them from growing. I’ll read over your guide again to see if you addressed this.
    Thanks, again!

    1. Hi Marie,
      Thank you for the compliment.
      In chapter P)# Storing chicory roots is described how to store the roots. I don’t know excactly at what temperature the forcing stops and when the roots are damaged by too low temperatures. I guess that storage between -5 C and + 5 C (23 and 41 F) will be okay.
      I’ve found out that witloof forcing still goes on at 10 C (50 F), (I have measured the temperature in my cellar during the winter).
      Greets, Sjef

  14. Hi,
    Your instruction is easy to understand and to follow. Any chance, you know where I can buy those roots. Please advise.

    1. Hi John,
      You better search on the internet if there are chicory (witloof) roots for sale in your country.
      If yes, you must find out if the roots need earth coverage when forcing witloof heads (or you can force the heads in “dark air”).

      If you can’t buy those roots, I advise you to buy Chicory seeds and grow the plants yourself. Buy the right seeds (with or without earth coverage).
      Grow the plants in your garden soil or in a big container filled with sand/potting soil mixture.
      Good luck, Sjef

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