Growing and Saving the Seed Of Endive and Escarole
Latin name Cichorium endivia, endive and escarole are the sophisticated grandchildren of the wild chicory plant. Both greens are delightfully bitter and mellow, making them a perfect complement to sweet fruits in salad. Popular cool-weather greens in Europe, endive and escarole have long been considered gourmet. They are also very nutritious!
A Belgian farmer accidentally discovered endive around 1830. At the time, chicory root was a popular substitute for coffee; the roots were dug and stored in root cellars over winter. The farmer forgot about his stored roots. When he returned to check on them, they had sprouted delicate white leaves in a tight, conical shape. By the 1840s, botanists had developed a commercial cultivation process, and endive became an overnight gourmet sensation in Belgium and France. Escarole is extremely popular in Italian cuisine. The frilly layers range from dark green to light yellow hearts, and the flavor becomes milder as the color lightens. .
- Many culinary uses
- Direct sow seeds and thin seedlings to 6-12 inches. You may also start seedlings indoors to protect them from summer’s intense heat and then set transplants out in the garden when the heat has subsided. Take care not to let seedlings become root bound.
Ideal germination temperature is 45-75 F.
Sow seeds ¼ inch deep.
Seeds germinate in 5-10 days.
- These greens thrive in cool weather and suffer in intense heat. For that reason they are usually sown in mid-to late summer for a fall harvest. In mild climates, they can be grown as winter crops.
- They prefer rich, well-drained soil and they require good moisture.
- Blanching is an option if you do not want the greens to take a very bitter flavor.
- Blanching is easy. Wait until 3 weeks from harvest date; then tie the outer leaves together at the top with twine. Be sure to avoid rot by tying leaves when they are completely dry.
- Fungus can be a problem when warm weather and excessive moisture are factors.
- To control rot, avoid overwatering or watering close to harvest time. Use drip irrigation and do not plant endive and escarole in the same garden location year after year.
- If flea beetles are a pest in your area, cover small plants with a floating row cover to protect them from damage.
- You will need to overwinter endive and escarole, as they are biennial and will take two seasons to flower and produce seed.
- You may find that your plants bolt in the first season. Do not save these seeds; wait for the next season’s flowers.
- Cut down flower stalks when seed pods begin to dry.
- Place in a bag and crush the pods to remove the seeds.
- The minimum isolation distance for endive and escarole varieties is 10-15 feet. Endive and escarole are related, but they will not readily cross with each other and can be grown side by side. They are self pollinating; therefore the chance of cross pollination is low.
- Seeds will remain viable in refrigeration for up to 5 years.