Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Frisee – Gourmet chicory greens

Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is an interesting garden vegetable that has many forms and is known by many names including frisee, curly leaf endive, flat leafed endive or escarole, radicchio, Belgium endive, witlof and chicon. Qriginally from Europe, chicory is a weed in America with scattered plants growing in Colorado at 4000 to 7000 feet elevation. Many people think it is a native “wildflower” (see photo). It is often confused with blue flax which has one layer of petals instead of the double “wheel” of chicory flowers.

Of the selected forms for eating, the leafy vegetables include frisee sometimes sold by seed companies as Cichorium endivia. The frilly leaves (see photo) are used as a bitter fresh green in salad mixes. Flat-leafed endive (escarole) is more often used as a wilted or cooked green. Note that some people use the term frisee for frilly lettuce but lettuce is in a whole separate genus, Lactuca. The chicory group of plants is confusing enough without mixing the idea of lettuces in with them.

It’s entirely appropriate to be talking about frisee in late November as the greens are very cold hardy and can survive until early December particularly if mulched. Frisee is easy to grow in 45 days and can be planted in mid-summer for a fall crop, or in early spring as a cool season crop for harvesting before hot weather arrives. Some people blanch their crop by tying leaves in a bundle 3 days before harvest to deprive the inner leaves of light and change them to a light yellow color.

Next post will be about another fun thing to do with chicory plants - harvest roots and force the gourmet witlof (chicon) buds to grow in winter.

Photo credits: Cichorium intybus flower-Alvesgaspar, Frisee – Frank C. Muller

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leftover vegetable seed storage

Many home gardeners end up with a few seeds in a seed packet or even unopened packets of seeds. Are they worth storing for planting next year?

A dry climate is ideal for storing many vegetable seeds. Life is extended under dry conditions even if seeds are stored at warmer temperatures of 70 degrees F and not 32 degrees F. Exceptions are bean and okra seeds that develop hard coats causing poor germination. Seeds will reach 4 to 7 percent moisture under the 20 percent humidity often seen in Colorado.

Here is a relative guide to the life expectancy of seeds stored under favorable conditions. Use it for deciding whether to keep or toss leftover seed.

Life expectancy in years
Bean 3
Beet 4
Broccoli 3
Brussels sprouts 4
Cabbage 4
Carrot 3
Cauliflower 4
Chinese cabbage 3
Collard 5
Corn 2
Corn salad (mache) 5
Cucumber 5
Eggplant 4
Endive 5
Kale 4
Kohlrabi 3
Leek 2
Lettuce 6
Muskmelon 5
Mustard 4
New Zealand spinach 3
Okra 2
Onion 1
Parsnip 1
Pea 3
Pepper 2
Pumpkin 4
Radish 5
Rutabaga 4
Salsify 1
Spinach 3
Squash 4
Swiss chard 4
Tomato 4
Turnip 4
Watermelon 4

Photo credit: Seed packets, Carl Wilson