Dirt on Gardening

One of the reasons I enjoy vegetable gardening is to have the opportunity to grow things for cooking and preserving. Here’s a new plant to consider planting this spring—radicchio.

Radicchio is a red leafed chicory that originally grew in the wild in Italy. Pronounced “ra-dee-kee-o”, radicchio produces a small, dense round head, like iceberg lettuce. The head is about the size of a large orange with maroon red leaves with white veins.

Growing radicchio for home use was unreliable until the introduction of “Chioggia Red Preco No. 1” radicchio seed. Today the tiny seeds can be planted for spring or fall crops. Radicchio may also perform well in the summer in some locations tolerating temperatures in the 80’s with occasional 90’s and plenty of water. Like lettuce, long days and the heat of summer can cause radicchio to bolt and the tips of the heads will burn.

Radicchio grows best from seedlings rather than direct seeding. Seedlings will emerge in four to 14 days with temperatures in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s. After seedlings emerge, they will be ready to transplant in 18-inch rows that are eight to 10 inches apart.

Although radicchio is more tolerant of a lot of water than lettuce, it should still be planted in an area with good drainage. Fertilize with composted manure and control weeds around seedlings. Keep the seedlings watered regularly.

Radicchio prefers cool temperatures in the evening, preferably below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to its cool temperature tolerance, fall crops of radicchio grow well, usually producing larger heads. Radicchio can handle frosts, although growth in the cold weather is slow.

Harvest will be six to eight weeks after planting radicchio transplants. The head is ready to cut when it’s firm like an iceberg lettuce head. Radicchio heads can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four weeks in a perforated plastic bag.

Radicchio can be eaten raw by itself or mixed with other greens in salad. It is also a common ingredient in Italian cooking

Radicchio is available as round “Chioggia” heads similar to the wild Italian variety or as tall “Trevisio” heads that are shaped like Romaine lettuce.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds, www.johnnyseeds.com, has several types of radicchio seed, Chioggia and Trevisio, and they recommend trying different types of radicchio and succession planting to see what works best in your climate.

Joleen is an University of Missouri master gardener. For questions or comments related to gardening, contact her at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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