There are two types of endive: the upright Batavian or escarole with large broad leaves; and the curly or fringed frisee with a rosette of delicately serrated leaves. Curled varieties are used for summer cropping, broad-leaved types are robust and are useful for winter cropping. The outer leaves can be cooked as greens.
Jobs to do now
- Sow for mini leaves
- Sow bolt-resistant types for blanching
- Thin seedlings from early sowings
- Plant out module-grown seedlings
Month by month
Although the minimum soil temperature for germination is 15°C (59°F), endive germinates best at 20-22°C (68-72°F).
Sow early crops under glass in pots and modules, and transplant. Plants tend to bolt if temperatures fall below 5C (41°F) for too long, but bolt-resistant cultivars are often successful for early sowings. Sow thinly from April to August, 1cm (½in) deep in rows 30cm (12in) apart, thinning to 23-38cm (9-13in) apart within the rows.
Sow from mid to late August for winter crops, transplant and grow in glasshouse or use cloches from October- November.
Sow from February to October for ‘cut and come again’ seedlings, if the soil is warm enough, or under glass or horticultural fleece, sowing every three weeks. Sow ‘cut and come again’ crops in broad drills or containers.
Soils should be light, rich and free draining, but any soil can be used as long as it is not waterlogged. Dry soil can cause ‘bolting’ (running to seed), so keep the soil moist.
Higher temperatures encourage bitterness, though curled types are heat tolerant. Water thoroughly before the onset of dry weather, mulch and keep weed free. Liquid feed fortnightly in summer with a general fertiliser.
Blanch endive about 12 weeks after sowing when the heads have matured. Make sure the leaves are dry (damp leaves are likely to rot) and tie them loosely together with raffia or soft string. Alternatively, place a tile, piece of cardboard or a dinner plate over the centre of the plant, or cover with a bucket or a black plastic pot with the drainage holes covered.
Blanching takes about 10-14 days, but in cooler autumn weather may take longer. Blanch a few at a time, as plants rapidly deteriorate afterwards (especially in warm or rainy weather).
‘Cut and come again’ crops can be harvested after about five weeks – one or two cuts are possible before they run to seed.
Endives can be harvested from spring onwards, either as mature heads or as small cut-and-come again salad leaves. Curled varieties are grown for summer harvests, while more robust broad-leaved types are for winter cropping.
For tips on blanching mature heads, see the Growing section, above.
Harvest whole heads about three months after sowing, when the leaves are creamy white, cutting the stem with a sharp knife.
Pick cut-and-come-again leaves from young plants, about a month or more after sowing. They should provide at least a couple of pickings.
Slugs and snails
These feed on the young seedlings and you'll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.
Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.
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