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August can often feel like a tricky time on the allotment. Lots of things like salad potatoes and beetroot have been harvested, leaving large gaps or whole beds free. Then there’s the interruption of a summer holiday – should you sow anything new before or after? Unless I’ve had time to establish crops for a few weeks and they are happy in the ground, I always leave sowing or planting till after my holiday: reliable watering friends who will do more than sprinkle the soil are hard to find!
One section of my long potato bed, is being left for autumn planting broad beans, which I’ll sow at the end of October or the start of November (I always use ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and ‘The Sutton’ at this time of year). Another section is marked out for sweet peas – again autumn sown under cover during the same period, but then put out in cold frames to be planted in march.
One last section is being given over to one of my favourite late salad crops, Radicchio di Treviso. Unlike the round, open radicchio which you find in bought bags of mixed salad, the Treviso type - the name is protected under EU law – is upright with a more fibrous stalk, which is often baked in olive oil and served before a meal with a little balsamic vinegar. It’s a little bitter, but absolutely delicious, and costs a fortune when you have it in restaurants or buy it from a delicatessen. (If you want the soft, round type go for the beautiful, mottled yellow and red R. ‘Castelfranco’.)
There is no point in planting radicchio earlier in the year because it will be unbearably bitter: it’s the cold weather that actually softens the flavour and makes it palatable.
“The outer leaves serve as its winter jacket” says Paolo Arrigio of Seeds of Italy, “they act as a blanching mechanism for Radicchio di Treviso, which comes from the Veneto region. It’s a very cold area of Italy, and the colder it is, the sweeter the radicchio is!”
The outer leaves turn colour as the weather gets colder, they redden then eventually turn a sort of brown colour, but you can peel them off to get to the red core in the middle at harvest time. If you want to increase the colour contrast, you can put a clay pot with the hole covered up over the R. ‘Treviso’ two to three weeks before harvesting.
For succession planting try ‘Radicchio di Treviso Svelta’, which means ‘early’.
‘Radicchio di Treviso Rosso’ is a mid-season variety and finally, the dramatic looking ‘Radicchio di Treviso Tardiva’, with elegantly in-curled leaves, is a late variety. This last withstands the frosts well and with some protection could be harvested till February.
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