Winter’s White Gold: Forcing Belgian Endives
It’s time to start forcing Belgian endives! If you missed it, check out our post from this spring, Winter’s White Gold: Planning Ahead for Belgian Endive Harvest. This previous post outlines the first part of the Belgian endive production cycle, specifically cultivation of the roots. Now we’ll talk about the second part of the production cycle, known as forcing, which produces the delicious chicons we eat as Belgian endives.
If you started Belgian endives this past spring, you should have ended up with a big bag of roots in your cooler. The roots are ideally around 1.5” in diameter, trimmed to 8” or so long, with the leaves trimmed to about 1” above the crown. Inside the cooler or refrigerator, your roots have been going through vernalization– you’ve been convincing them it’s winter. So when you take them out of the cooler, they will of course think that it’s spring. This is called forcing, when the change in temperature causes them to sprout chicons.
When you’re ready to start forcing, anytime between a week and several months after storing (but ideally no later than January), take your endive roots out of the cooler and plant them (you can also store them in the cooler pre-planted). The roots can be tightly packed into deep containers – “long tom” terra cotta pots, sap buckets, or 5 gallon buckets work well.
Next, simply fill in around the roots with sand, light potting soil, or peat. Do your best to fill in all the gaps, leaving just the trimmed tops sticking out above the sand or soil. Then cover your buckets and place in a warm, completely dark place, ideally around 68⁰F. You can cover your pots with black plastic garbage bags or simply put them in the cellar or a closet. Just remember – any light that gets in will cause the creamy white chicons to turn green (and tougher). If you use a plastic bag, cover loosely and check your pots every few days for mold. Water lightly so that the soil is kept moist to the touch (but not sopping wet).
Within 2-3 weeks, your chicons will be ready to harvest! And don’t throw out your roots after the first harvest – if you keep conditions right, you may get a second flush of smaller chicons a few weeks later.
Excited to try Belgian endives, or have some advice for other growers? Let us know what you think, and check out our Totem F1 Belgian Endive seeds.
Not sure how to eat them? Try using the raw leaves as tiny serving dishes filled with fruit, nuts, and cheese for an attractive appetizer, in an Endive, Apple, and Walnut Salad, or like the French do, as an Autumn Vegetable tarte tatin.