Chicory is used as a salad leaf vegetable and comes in a variety of colours, sizes and shapes. You can also grow Chicory as an ornamental plant that produces lovely blue flowers.
There are two main types of Chicory; forcing and non-forcing. Chicory can be sown earlier indoors, in pots or directly from May to July.
If you choose to get a head start indoors - sow in April-May, until the threat of frost passes, you can also give the Chicory chance to become more established and stronger against pests.
Chicory needs a sunny position outdoors. Forcing Chicory should be sown May-June and non-forcing types of Chicory in June-July. If weather conditions are too cold, this will cause them to bolt and flower instead of producing leaves.
Sow your Chicory seeds approximately an inch deep and 12 inches apart in rows. You can thin out seedlings allowing 6 inches apart for forcing Chicory and double that for non-forcing Chicory. Chicory growing for baby salad leaves will not require as much space and can be 2-3 inches apart.
Protect against slugs and pests and water well during dry spells. Chicory that gets too dry can bolt and have a bitter tasting leaf as a result.
Harvesting the leaves for non-forcing varieties can usually be done November-December. Pick the leaves as required.
For forcing varieties, lift the roots during November. Remove the foliage to approximately and inch and a half from the top of the root and trim the roots to approximately 10 inches. Cover the roots in damp sand to store in a cool place.
When the stored crown is ready to produce the new young shoots to eat - chicons, pot up approximately 5 roots in a pot filled with compost, leaving the crowns just visible above the soil. Cover to exclude light and grow on indoors or where it is a temperature of at least 10-12°C. A chicon should grow from each root within a few weeks.
To force chicory outdoors, cover the trimmed roots with soil 10 inches deep. Cover with cloches, straw or similar, and the chicons should appear in early spring.