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Harvesting and Using Chicory (continued page 2)

Harvesting Chicory
If you are growing chicory for its leaves then they will be ready for harvest when a good "heart" has formed. Generally speaking the chicory will be about 30 / 45cm (12 /18in) high when it is ready for harvest.

Pull the chicory plant, roots and all, gently from the soil. Chop off the roots and throw them onto the compost heap. Chicory leaves keep very well in the fridge, they stay crisp much longer than lettuce.

It is possible to force chicory to produce chicons whilst it is left in the soil. To do this, cut the stem and leaves off leaving just a 5cm (2in) stem. Draw the soil up around the stem to just cover it. The chicons will grow off the root under the soil and will be ready for harvest in two to three weeks.

The best way to force chicons to grow though is to remove the plants from the ground and force them in a cool greenhouse or shed. Forcing chicory is slightly more complicated than normal but if you get it right then chicons can be yours for the eating from early December through to mid February.

If you lift chicory and force them all at once you will end up with a glut of this tasty vegetable. It's best to force them over a two to three month period. To do this you will need to dig up the roots, prepare them for storage and then force them, a few at a time, as needed. For step by step instructions on how to force chicory, click here.

Cooking and Storing
Blanched chicory is not bitter and can be used directly in salads. Radicchio doesn't need blanching and its red leaves look and taste great in late autumn and winter salads.

Chicory grown without blanching is best steamed and served with a knob of butter.

Chicons can be eaten uncooked in salads. They can also be braised with either bacon or encased in ham parcels.

Recommended Varieties
If you want chicory for the leaves then two excellent varieties are Pain de Sucre and Palla Rossa (red leaves). For chicons, choose any witloof variety, a superb one is Brussels Witloof.

Pests and Diseases
Chicory is a fast growing strong vegetable and resists most pests and diseases. Where it is grown in damp conditions it may suffer from rotting and decaying leaves. The solution is not to plant chicory in damp stagnant areas of the garden.

The only other problem they can occasionally suffer from is the dreaded slug. Chicory and radicchio are not the slugs favourite but they do eat them sometimes. Click here for how to deal with slugs in your garden.