How to Grow Escarole and Endivecomments (1) June 29th, 2009
I had to start growing escarole after hearing emotional tales from my mother-in-law and her sisters about their family’s holiday meals—multi-course, gut-busting, Italian-American feasts, in which escarole soup was the prominent first course. Since I always listen to my mother-in-law, I tried growing escarole in my garden. I found that escarole soup deserved its high praise. I’ve been growing and cooking this prized Mediterranean cool-season vegetable with clean and bitter flavors ever since.
|Two varieties of endive, the shoestring-type 'Tosca', left, and the larger-leaved 'Salad King', right, are destined for the salad bowl. The unblanched head of escarole at upper left will make a savory calzone filling.|
There are many varieties of endive and escarole available to the gardener, with an array of leaf shapes and plant habits. Most come from Europe, where chicories are popular, common vegetables. They are as easy to grow as lettuce, and can be lifted into the fancy class by blanching—that is, by limiting the light reaching the plant in its last stage of growth.
Grow them like lettuce
The growing methods for escarole and endive are very similar to those for lettuce. As with all greens, continuous, rapid growth is the key to producing a quality product. To this end, you can control the time of planting, the amount of irrigation, and the degree of soil fertility. Like lettuce, endive and escarole require only moderate soil fertility. I’ve found periodic additions of compost—I add a thin layer at least once a year—are sufficient to keep my soil in an adequately fertile range. To prevent tip-burn, I also add a source of calcium. I used to apply oyster shell calcium, but that also adds magnesium, and my soil here in Sonoma County is already high in magnesium. Now I use gypsum, applying 10 to 20 pounds per 200 square feet once a year, at least several weeks ahead of planting. I prefer gypsum because it’s hard to use too much, and it also breaks up my heavy soil.
|Four or five weelks after sprouting, an escarole seedling is ready for the garden.|
Escarole takes eight or more weeks to reach maturity from transplanting, about the same length of time as fennel and radicchio, so I often grow these fall crops in the same bed. Endive is ready in about six weeks, comparable to butter and romaine lettuces.
|A large piece of plywood provides a kneeling surface without compacting the soil, and markings on it show where to plant.||The author uses an offset triangular planting pattern to make the best use of space.|
|Escarole (in the foreground) needs slightly more elbow room than endive (in the background, being weeded).|
Fall crops are best
I’ve found that summer planting for fall harvest is best for both escarole and endive. In fact, it’s the only time I grow escarole, which tends to bolt before reaching full size if planted in spring. I set out endive pretty much straight through from May on. Fortunately, here in northern California I have a long fall growing season and can harvest into December from a late September transplanting. Optimum growing temperatures for both greens are 45°F to 75°F. Adjust your schedule to your area so that the later stages of plant growth fall within this temperature range. Light frost doesn’t hurt these chicories.
Growing in early spring is possible but presents several problems. Cold spells can delay growth. Lengthening days lead to a tendency to bolting. And the weather often becomes too hot before the plants mature, resulting in an overly bitter flavor.
Blanching makes these greens special
You can harvest endive and escarole at any stage, but to get a blanched effect, you need full heads. Blanching is a simple technique, and produces a bright, yellow-white, tender heart that makes the plant less bitter and visually irresistible. Some varieties are self-blanching; as they grow fuller and fuller, their inner leaves are naturally protected from sunlight. But for some very special salad greens, try hands-on blanching.
Five days before harvest, when the head is very close to fully grown, but still growing vigorously, I pull the leaves together and place wide rubber bands around the plant to blanch the hearts. The new growth that occurs while the plant is tied up is whitened, since sunlight never reaches it. The time a plant is tied up may have to be increased if the plant is growing slowly, in cold weather, for example. An alternative method is to place a 1-gallon plant container over the whole plant, again about five days before harvest.
Endive is traditionally blanched, whereas escarole is used more as a cooking green. But I sometimes tie escarole up to increase the tender, blanched center, which is a superlative salad ingredient.
|Blanching is simple. About five days before harvesting, draw the head together and secure with a wide rubber band.|
|The new leaves that develop while the plant is tied will be creamy white and tender (left). You can get the same effect by covering individual plants with large, dark-colored pots. Blanched escarole (right) is good for salads.|
Tried-and-true endive and escarole varieties
A good variety to try when first growing endive is the old American standard, ‘Salad King’. It’s adaptable to different climates, disease resistant, vigorous, and versatile in the kitchen. I also grow the curly endive ‘Tosca’ . It is a large variety of the ‘Très Fine Maraîchère’ class, which has very fine-cut, thin leaves, sometimes described as shoestring.
I grow ‘Coral’ escarole in moderate weather, then ‘Perfect’ when it gets colder. These escaroles have more of an upright growth habit than some of the older varieties and are, therefore, less susceptible to rot.
|Sources for endive and escarole seeds|
|Johnny's Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, Maine 04901
5723 Trowbridge Way
San Jose, Ca 95138
|Stokes SeedsPO Box 548
Buffalo, NY 14240
Territorial Seed Company
PO Box 158
Cottage Grove, OR 97424
Problems are few
Slow-growing escarole is susceptible to bottom rot, especially in cool, wet weather. The plant is cold-tolerant, but moisture is a problem. Growing under plastic—in a hoop house for instance—keeps the rain off and helps prevent bottom rot, besides extending the growing season. Switching to an upright, cold-weather variety like ‘Perfect’ helps. Other ways to reduce rot are cutting the plant before it’s fully grown, and planting earlier so that harvest comes before wet, cool weather.
|To avoid leaf rot, seen on the blanched leaf tip in the photo above, be sure plants aren't wet when you tie them.|
As mentioned before, if your soil lacks calcium, tip burn can develop. The ‘Très Fine Maraîchère’ endives are particularly susceptible. Tip-burn shows up most often during spurts of growth when wet, warm conditions follow cool, dry ones. In addition to providing adequate soil calcium, adjust your irrigation practices to keep plants growing evenly.
Despite these potential problems, escarole and endive are easy crops. It won’t be hard for you to achieve full, nicely blanched heads to rival those going for top price in the produce markets.
|Escarole and endive recipes:
• Pompa Sisters' Fall Soup with Scarola
• Curly Endive Salad with Bacon Dressing
• Sautéed Escarole
• Calzones Filled with Escarole
posted in: Lettuce, fall garden, greens