Belgium Endive Trial 2006
The purpose of the project was to determine the best timing for planting and forcing Belgian endive in Santa Clara County’s unique climate.
When we grew Belgian endive two years ago, we started seedlings in August and transplanted them in October. We then dug the roots in February for forcing. We only got one chicon harvest because the weather was already warming up by then. We believe that by growing the plants over the summer and starting the forcing just as the weather turns cold, we could get harvests all through the winter.
The plot was cover cropped with fava beans which were cut down and rototilled into the beds in April, along with some aged horse manure.
We started five sets of seedlings of Totem F1 Belgian endive (seeds from Stokes) approximately one month apart throughout the spring and summer. We transplanted the strongest six seedlings from each batch when they were about six weeks old. They were planted in two rows, one foot apart, in a three-foot-wide bed. Each seedling had a handful of alfalfa pellets dug into its hole before planting.
|August 16 (replanted August 23)
The August transplants were disrupted by some unknown creature, so they had to be replanted. The August seedlings did not germinate or grow very well, possibly due to the hot weather at that point. Several plants from both batches were eaten by gophers in January, so we were only able to transplant five plants total from the two batches combined.
Plants were on drip irrigation which ran 3 times a week for 1 hour each time.
No fertilizer, other than compost and alfalfa pellets, was used. No pesticides were needed.
Each bin was filled with sand to the depth of 20", about one and one half 60 lb bags of sand, which was then wetted with two gallons of water. Sand is the traditional growing medium. In our 2003–2004 trials, we compared sand, potting soil, and sawdust as possible growing media—sand clearly performed the best.
The roots were planted about 6" apart in the damp sand, with the crown just above the sand.
For the most part, we did not get the tight chicon heads that are sold in the store. Instead, we harvested leaves individually, like harvesting the outer leaves of lettuce instead of the whole head. Perhaps as a result of this, since we weren’t harvesting the whole head and possibly damaging the growing tip, we were able to keep harvesting into April, especially since the weather stayed cool this particular winter. We got about one-quarter to one-half of a pound a week from each barrel, plenty for weekly salads.
There was a surprising amount of variation in how the leaves grew, especially considering that this was an F1 hybrid. Some leaves were tall and skinny, others were short and sturdy. They were all tasty, with that bittersweet flavor that Belgian endive is known for.
Pests and diseases
In the field, the endives were mostly carefree. At the very end, we did have gophers eat a couple of roots, so if you have gophers, be aware that they like endive. Some of the plants bolted, sending up those pretty blue chicory flowers. The roots that bolted seemed to produce as well as those that didn’t, although we didn’t track them carefully enough to be absolutely sure.
In the bins, we had an initial problem with snails and slugs. We put Sluggo in and that seemed to take care of it. Some of the chicons suffered from a brown rot in the bins. Possibly cleaning the green leaves off more thoroughly before planting would help, so that there’s less decaying matter around. Also possibly punching some air holes in the upper part of the bin to encourage air circulation could help.
Growing Belgian endive is quite easy in Santa Clara County. With our mild winters, we can simply leave our bins in dark shaded areas outside and have crisp Belgian endive salads all winter long, especially if you’re willing to harvest them leaf by leaf rather than cutting the entire head.
Trial lead: Karen Schaffer
Thanks go to the entire Nine Palms team for their assistance, especially in the bed preparation. Special thanks to Jeannie Sunseri, Sally Pyle, and Mike Kent for their assistance throughout the project.