Among the wonderful varieties of greens available to grow late in the season there is escarole. What is escarole? Keep reading to find out how to grow escarole and how to take care of escarole.
What is Escarole?
Escarole, related to endive, is a cool season biennial commonly cultivated as an annual. Like chard, kale, and radicchio, escarole is a hearty green that thrives late in the growing season. Escarole has smooth, broad, green leaves that are commonly used in salad. The flavor of escarole is less bitter than other members of the endive family, very much akin to the taste of radicchio. It grows from a large rosette of light green leaves that gradate outwards to dark green on the outer edges.
Escarole is high in vitamins A and K as well as folic acid. Usually eaten raw, escarole is also sometimes lightly cooked with a simple wilting of the green or chopped into soup.
How to Grow Escarole
Plant escarole in full sun in well-draining soil that is amended with compost to aid in water retention. The soil should have a pH of 5.0 to 6.8.
Propagation from seed should start four to six weeks before the last average frost date for your area. Seeds can also be started indoors for later transplantation eight to ten weeks before the last average frost date. While they are more tolerant of heat than lettuce, the plan when growing escarole plants is to have them harvestable before temps regularly get into the 80’s (27 C.). It takes 85 to 100 days until it’s time for harvesting escarole.
Sow the seeds ¼ inch (6 mm.) deep and 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) apart. Thin the seedlings to 6 to 12 inches (15-31 cm.) apart. Growing escarole plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches (46-61 cm.) apart.
Care of Escarole
Keep the escarole plants consistently moist. Allowing the plants to dry out too frequently will result in bitter greens. Side dress the escarole plants with compost midway through their growing season.
Escarole is often blanched. This entails covering the plant to deprive it of sunlight. This slows the production of chlorophyll, which can make the greens bitter. Blanch escarole two to three weeks before harvesting when the exterior leaves are 4 to 5 inches (10-13 cm.) long. You can blanch several different ways.
The most common methods are to simply pull the outer leaves together and secure them with a rubber band or string. Make sure the leaves are dry, so they don’t rot. You could also cover the plants with a flowerpot or use your imagination and come up with another solution.
The point is to deprive the escarole of sunlight. Blanching takes between two and three weeks at which time you can begin harvesting.
Escarole can be sown every two weeks beginning in midsummer for continuous crops through the growing season or in areas with mild winters in the spring, fall, and winter. It can also be easily grown in pots for those without an actual garden plot.