}

October 29, 2011

Digging Belgian Endive for Winter Forcing

AS THE SNOW BEGINS TO FALL, I DUG THE ROOTS OF BELGIAN ENDIVE, NICE AND THICK AND EARTH-COVERED - THESE WILL BE POTTED UP FOR FORCING DURING THE WINTER.

Last April, on a cold, overcast and dreary day with the threat of snow ( not unlike today), I planted a crop of Belgian Endive.  Belgian Endive is one of those old-fashioned crops that requires that you dig the root and force it during the winter, at one time, the only way to obtain fresh vegetables during the long winter months that were not winter-storage vegetables like squash. Few gardeners today bother to grow such crops, since Belgian endive can be purchased year-round at specialty markets, but yeah, I'm not your average gardener, and besides... I really like the crunchy, nutty taste of raw Belgian Endive - I buy a few most weeks in the winter for salads,as well as dishes where it is cooked (often braised in broth or served gratineed with cheese). 

THE BELGIAN ENDIVE ROOTS MUST BE HAND-DUG CAREFULLY, AFTER A LIGHT FROST, BUT BEFORE A HARD FREEZE. WITH A FOOT A SNOW EXPECTED THIS EVENING, AND 24 DEGREE F. TEMPS, IT WAS TIME TO DIG.
It takes patience to grow Belgian Endive, since true harvest of the vegetable happens 10 months after planting the seeds, but how can you beat home-grown anything with something purchased at a store. These are organic, (no fertilizer since Belgian Endive is a low-fertilizer crop), and I know exactly what went into them. Home Farming is great, but when space is limited, I prefer to grow those vegetables that I cannot find readily, the varieties that are difficult to find because either they don't ship well, or commercial growers select more sturdy varieties that ship well and last. There are just some vegetables that one cannot buy truly fresh, and this is one of them.

THE ROOTS MUST BE AIR-DRIED FOR A FEW DAYS AND THEN TRIMMED SO THAT THEY WILL ALL BE OF UNIFORM SIZE. THE OPTIMUM ROOT SIZE IS 1.5 INCHES IN DIAMETER, SO, ALTHOUGH THESE ARE SMALLER, A HARVEST CAN STILL BE MADE, WITH THE HEADS OF ENDIVE BEING LESS PRETTY.
 Also, I have always wanted to grow some myself, in the proper way - grow the plant all summer long, dig the roots at frost, dry them a few days, and then pot them up tightly in a container where they will spend the winter in complete darkness, in a cold store room in the cellar. When I am ready to begin forcing them, I will move the container into a warmer location, but continue to keep it in complete darkness ( wrapped in black plastic, most likely, but in a warmer closet).By mid-January ( yes, Jacques), I hope to have some Belgian endive for our annual American Primula Society Winter Bash that we host. Keep fingers crossed for a winter salad of fresh Persimmon and Belgian Endive.
THE MOST UNIFORM ROOTS WILL ALL BE POTTED TOGETHER AFTER THEY ARE AIR-DRYED ON THE POTTING BENCH IN THE GREENHOUSE.  SMALLER ROOTS WILL BE POTTED IN A SECOND CONTAINER.

The variety I selected to grow is from Johnny's Selected Seeds, TOTEM F1. A very good guide in pdf format is available from Johnny's, you can find it here at the bottom of their page. If  you want to try growing Belgian Endive next year in your garden, do download this pdf and then try them. So far, the crop has be much easier than I expected. Plant the seed as soon as the soil can be worked, keep them weeded all summer. They prefer draught, and sand soil that is not high is nitrogen. Dig the roots in late October or November before a hard freeze, air dry for a few days in the sun, trim them to remove most of the leaves, leaving an inch or so of stem, and trim the root tips so that they are of uniform length if necessary, and pot tightly, neck-neck in a clean, deep box or pot with potting soil ( ProMix). Keep completely dark and cool until you start forcing in December. Then move the pot to a place where temps are near 70 degrees F, continue to keep the pot wrapped in black plastic or cloth to block out all light. Cut off the tight, light yellow heads when the emerge to a size that you prefer.

The same process can be used to force Rhubarb ( Dig now and treat the same way, but force in a cold room),  and with a difficult to find vegetable called Sea Kale ( Crambe maritima)- Still trying to find seeds for that.




3 comments :

  1. Chiltern seeds has Crambe maritima seed available through their website. If I'm looking for unusual seed, they almost always have it.

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  2. I just KNEW that one of my awesome readers will know of a source for Crambe maritima. Thanks Susan!!

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