Growing Endives or Witloof Chicory, is quite simple, but requires a little bit of attention.
It is normally sown in the open ground in May or early June, and then thinned out to plants which individually should be 6in apart (150mm). Keep weed free through the summer, and water well in dry conditions.
It is important to keep the Chicory growing well to build up the food reserves in the roots, which will be harvested to allow you to 'grow' the blanched 'chicons'. These Chicons are responsible for the name of Witloof, which in Flemish simply means white leaf!
This growing period is simply in preparation for the final result, which will be roots to harvest in autumn from which the Witloof Chicons will be forced into growth. Good preparation in this preparatory 'growing' stage, by way of feeding, watering and generally protecting your future 'investment' is the key to a good return on that investment later on in the year!
In late Autumn - November - cut back the foliage to within and inch (25mm) of the crown. Lift the roots - crown - and store the roots horizontally in peat or sand, in a box in shed or garage.
Witloof Chicory buds - German or French Endives
The white 'chicons' must be 'forced' by bringing the roots into a dark but warm place. 50-60 deg F is about right. Just force a few of the roots at a time. Plant two or three roots in a 9in flower pot - plastic or terracotta - with an upturned pot over the top of the planted pot. The topmost drainage holes should be blocked to keep out any light, otherwise the resulting growth will hunt up towards the light from the drainage holes.
It is essential to force or grow them in the dark. This ensures 'blanched' rather than green chicons - full of flavour and not bitter to the taste.
Keep the pot of compost/soil moist and keep warm, and the endives or chicons will be ready to harvest in about 4-5 weeks. Maybe a little sooner if you want smaller endives.
The root should be discarded afterwards, as it will only produce the one chicon. By harvesting this, you are in effect preventing the plant from growing!
In nutritional terms, Witloof has no fat, no cholesterol and is an excellent source of the main Vitamis, C, A and Folate