Darsham Nurseries Cafe, potager, kitchen garden, vegetables from seed, harvesting vegetables,
The Daily Dibber

Kitchen gardener for the Darsham Nurseries Cafe. Seedaholic. Grower and lover of food and flowers.

Radical Radicchios

Despite being a self-confessed seedaholic, it shames me to say that this is the first time I have grown radicchio. Initially sown to bulk out the winter harvests for the café, I have become very fond of them. If I never ate a vegetable again I would still grow this. Similar to a vintage wine or a middle-aged silver fox , this plants maturity enriches them.

Radicchio is basically red Italian chicory, favoured by chefs for its bitter crunchy taste and firm leaves. They can be loose leaved, round headed or torpedo shaped. They are in some ways even easier to grow than lettuce, not suited it seems to the palate of snails and slugs.

As it’s a hardy, cold season crop, timing is crucial as you only want the plant to mature in the period between late autumn and spring. Exposure to hot temperatures renders a mature plant inedible and bitter. I sowed four batches of seeds, two in August and the remaining two in September. The initially germinated leaves look similar to lettuce, but then the leaves thicken and as the temperatures drop they develop an intriguing red tinge. As well as planting into the potager and into the café beds, we transplanted them into modules so that they could continue growing until we had the space to put them in their new homes.

Radicchio seedlings in modules.

Radicchio seedlings in modules.

The varieties are christened after the areas of Italy where they originated, but to me they conjure up images of an old Italian widow, in a back kitchen, wearing a black headscarf, standing under hung hams and shaking a sizzling pan. Varieties include:
Grumolo Rossa
Orchidea Rossa
Variegated de Castelfranco
Palla Rossa Di Verona
Rossa Di Treviso

Variegated Di Castelfranco

Variegated Di Castelfranco

Now, in the first week of November, the first sown seedlings start to mature, and in my opinion have become as beautiful and intricate as a giant rose bud. Orchidea Rossa had a close shave this week, but it’s just too beautiful to cut and instead gets a thankful slow stroke.

Harvesting is done by cutting the plant down at ground level, not digging it up. Classed as a perennial the ‘stub’ then regrows repeatedly, giving you several harvests. These fresh stubs when young are more susceptible to frost damage, so need a protective mulch such as straw to survive.

Remarkably, this is not all the radical radicchio can do; they have another trick up their leaves. If you wanted to ‘force’ another crop, the best time is after a frost. Start by digging up the roots, removing the foliage/side shoots and sinking them into a container of damp sand. Make sure all light is excluded and four weeks later ‘chicons’ are born. These look a bit unnerving, perfectly pale, and oddly resemble baby birds stretching for a worm.

Chicons

Chicons


I look forward to sampling Lola’s inventions soon.

Starting the harvest of the first radicchios

Starting the harvest of the first radicchios

limegarden@sky.com • 8th November 2015


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