Growing and Saving the Seed Of Radicchio
A refined descendant of wild chicory, radicchio is also called Italian chicory. Varieties of radicchio are named after specific growing locations in the Veneto region of northern Italy. In order to achieve the tender, blanched red and white heads that are highly sought after in gourmet markets, you must dig the plants and blanch in a dark shed, much like Belgian endive.
Pliny the Elder lauded an ancient form of radicchio as a blood purifier and sleep aid. (Indeed, the plant contains a natural chemical that is a mild sedative.) More recognizable modern forms of radicchio have been cultivated in northern Italy since the 15th century. The signature red and white heads were not developed until the mid 1800s, when a blanching technique was developed to create them.
- For spring planting, sow seeds 8 weeks before last frost date and transplant out 4 weeks later. (The plants can handle the cold!)
- Sow seeds indoors ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart.
- For fall planting (which usually yields better results), sow seeds into trays in the very same way in August.
Seeds germinate in 5-10 days.
Ideal germination temperature is 45-75 F.
- Prepare bed with quality compost, and be sure to keep plants consistently moist.
- Transplant into the garden, 8-10 inches apart.
- Mulch around plants to suppress weeds and control temperature swings.
- In order to achieve the perfect red and white blanched heads, you will need to carefully dig the plants and place them in a dark shed or root cellar, where they can remain cold and completely away from sunlight.
- 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 radicchio 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 from damage.
- You will need to overwinter radicchio, as it is a 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 them in a bag and crush the pods to remove the seeds.