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Chicory, known botanically as Cichorium intynus, is a perennial plant with broad leaves that are arranged in rosettes, blue flowers that are produced on a long stalk, and a deep taproot. Chicory seed and transplanted roots are used for growing chicory. The three common chicory types, all grown on the same plant, are the red salad chicory, the lettuce-like sugar-loaf chicory and the blanched, white-leaved chicons; the first is grown normally, the second is forced by replanting the root, and the last is cultivated by depriving the leaves of sunlight for about ten days before harvesting chicory. There are various uses of chicory: as a salad, a forage crop and a substitute for coffee. The chicory root can be baked or dried and ground into powder for coffee substitute.
If growing chicory by seed in areas with very cold winters, it is usually best to carry out the sowing in early spring or early summer; this will ensure that the chicory plants can be harvested before the frost or snow. The chicory seed can be sown directly in the soil, which, in large fields intended for foraging, is done by broadcasting or no-till drilling. The soil, in this case, will need to be prepared beforehand so that it is loose and free of rocks and weeds. For optimum plant growth, it is a good idea to add manure to the soil before sowing. The chicory seed may also be planted in raised garden beds and in regular plant pots.
An area exposed to full sunlight is ideal for growing chicory, although the plants can also grow reasonably well in partial shade. The chicory seed should be planted at a shallow depth in a moist soil. The seeds are generally sown close together in rows, and will begin to germinate in about 14 or 15 days after they have been planted. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches in height, they can be thinned out to reduce over-crowding; the removed plants can be transplanted further apart, allowing all the plants to grow well.
The chicory plant has a lifespan of about seven years, and it is quite easy to cultivate. As it is usually meant for human and animal consumption, the plants should not be sprayed with any herbicides; the spraying is also mostly unnecessary as the plants are pretty sturdy and resilient against common pests and diseases. Chicory plants should be watered well while they are growing, and the harvesting is generally done after about four months after planting.
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