Growing Radicchio


chioggia radicchio
Chioggia radicchio cases ready to be shipped

On the last day of this past October I had the good fortune to visit T&T Seeds in Chioggia, Italy. T&T is a commercial seed company specializing in radicchio, but also offering all sorts of chicories and a number of other vegetable seeds as well.

I’ve been growing radicchio on and off for at least 15 years now but I’ve always felt like I was stumbling around in the dark a bit. Visiting T&T, specialists in radicchio, definitely shed some light on the topic and gave me a peek at some of the possibilities and techniques. I’m going to attempt to translate my notes and memories (two months later) of what the folks at T&T passed onto me. Usually I write about my own production experience but I thought other folks might find this information, which I don’t find widely available in the US, useful in their own experimenting with cool season chicories.


T&T Chioggia type chicories being trailed on a farm scale in Italy.



Most of the information I got was from one of T&T’s breeders, Andrea, who fortunately spoke excellent english and was obviously very familiar with the regional production practices and especially with the varieties that T&T sells. We started by talking about early, or “precoce,” types (as opposed to late or “tardiva” varieties which are produced differently). The production practices he was showing us and was describing were on farms fields that were probably 15-30 acres of radicchio rotated with crops like wheat, corn, beans and maybe watermelons. This was conventional production and for wholesale markets, most of it for tight, full sized heads that would then be cut up for bagged salad mix.

Andrea, our super generous and informative guide from T&T. Andrea is one of the seed breeders at T&T.


For the Chioggia area both transplanting and direct seeding are used, but it sounded like transplanting might be slightly more typical, and certainly wasn’t uncommon. Plants were grown in plugs and planted out at three weeks. Direct seeded crops were seeded a few days later than the plug trays were seeded since there would be no transplant shock. Holding plants in plug trays longer than three weeks was not recommended as it causes problems with the roots which in turn causes uneven maturity. Spacing for plants, direct seeded or not, was about 12-14” in line and about 18” between rows. When plants were direct seeded they would be thinned in the field to make sure the spacing was even. On the farm we saw, the soil appeared to be clay loam. It sounded like irrigation is primarily with natural rainfall but sometimes by big gun. We did see drip lines at their research farm, which had sandy soil.

New variety trials at T&T’s home fields.


Timing for planting depends on the variety and the desired harvest date. The shorter maturing varieties are transplanted from the beginning of August to the middle of the month and were harvested from the end of September into November. Longer maturing varieties are planted from mid August to the beginning of September and are harvested from November possibly into February.

A field of Treviso type radicchio in early November in Chioggia.


When I was thinking about how this compares to my experience here in the NW, I’m not as aware of the relative maturity type of the varieties that I’ve grown (something I’ll start paying more attention to), but it seems to me they probably plant a week or two later than I do and this is probably due to warmer nights and faster growth early on. The latitude is almost the same so it’s not about day length (although we might not get as much sun later in the season due to clouds).

Harvest timing is based on the head maturity. Heads are typically harvested when they are full and solid. If they are over mature they have a tendency to rot a bit at the leaf edges, requiring more cleaning and loss of weight. If there’s a threat of hard frost they might harvest slightly immature with a bit of green still in the wrapper leaves and leaving an inch or so of root attached. They are then stored for a few days to a week and the heads finish maturing in storage (I’m not sure if this is at a slightly higher temperature than typical storage or not but I would assume so).

Tardiva varieties are grown very similarly to precoce but they are harvested differently. They are dug with the root and then forced in flowing water (or water that is regularly changed). There is a great video on this process here. I’ve heard rumor of folks over here doing this successfully in buckets on a very small scale, changing the water every few days instead of using flowing water.

A beautiful head of chioggia type radicchio in the field. The outer leaves have been pushed down to reveal the tight head.


There are three basic shapes for the precoce radicchio: Chioggia, Treviso, and Verona. The Chioggia shape is completely round, Treviso is long and upright, and the Verona type is half way between with a round bottom, but a slightly pointed tip.

The typical radicchios are red and T&T has a particular deep color red that they select for. They also sell Castlefranco, and Lusia which are red flecked green varieties, as well as a completely green variety. According to Andrea, older varieties of Castlefranco were typically harvested and then blanched in cow barns on straw for a few days to a week. They were then watered which opened the head into a rosette. Modern varieties are tight which makes them self blanching in the field, but not open at harvest so they are typically peeled back slightly at harvest to display the same rosette as the old varieties. Sometimes Lusia or the green varieties are harvested in the same way and passed off as Castlefranco.

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I believe this was a Lusia type that Andrea had peeled back in the Castlefranco style.


Here in the U.S. we typically have one or two varieties available from a seed company in a particular form. T&T has three Sugarloaf radicchio varieties available (one of my favorites), a 75 day, a 90 day and a 120 day. If you want a standard red Chioggia type, they have 10 available ranging from 55 to 160 days. It’s easier to think about extending harvest with that range available. This year I’m trailing seeds from T&T but I also looked around and found varieties I wanted to try from Wild Garden Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, Uprising Seeds, Seeds from Italy, High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Osborne Seeds is the main importer of T&T seeds here in the Northwest. I’ve heard from them, and from other growers of T&T varieties that they are exceptionally uniform for radicchio so I’m curious to trial them against other companies.

In Italy, when fields are harvested they are gone through once, or maybe twice, and the typical yield is 80 heads out of 100 heads planted. In poor conditions it can take 4-5 harvests to get that yield. The heads of Chioggia we were seeing there were about 1lb each, beautiful and tight. My yields have been significantly lower than that here in Oregon, although I also have very heavy vole pressure and have found that voles prefer radicchio over most other winter crops.

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Chioggia type radicchio is given a final cleaning in a big tank of water before being packed into styrofoam flats for shipping.


Spring Production

I wasn’t very interested in spring production so I didn’t ask much but Andrea did mention it a few times. Apparently they use the shortest day varieties to produce heads in late spring before temperatures get too hot.

It does seem that radicchio is produced in many areas now, and by moving north and south the harvests can be extended. A helpful chart in their catalog shows planting and harvest periods by variety for four different regions of Italy with seeding dates ranging from mid May to late July in the most Northern mountain regions, and mid July through mid August in the South.

Other Chicories

We talked less about other types of chicories but we did see escarole, endive, catalogna, puntarelle and a few other specialty types of radicchio including a beautiful light rose colored one. According to Andrea they do have different day length varieties of the escarole and endive, but they are planted more like lettuce, with successions to spread out the harvest. The endive is banded 3-5 days before harvest to blanch, although some of the varieties are partially self blanching. They are selecting a puntarelle for more northern production but most production is currently done farther south, near Rome, and the timing is very specific, by variety, to get fat stalks.

Lane Selman, @culinarybreedingnetwork, taking notes on radicchio in the fields.


Thank Yous

A big thank you to Jason Salvo @jasonsalvo for the initial contact information for T&T. During our visit @culinarybreedingnetwork and I were posting photos to instagram and there was some great conversations on production here in the US in the comments. I also want to thank Chris Fields @camporossofarm and Alex Wenger @thefieldsedge. Apparently there are some folks here in the US who are growing really beautiful stuff, maybe even surpassing what’s happening in Italy in some cases, but certainly without the same demand or big production.

Financial Analysis as a Tool on the Farm


Farmers come to me asking about tools that will make their farms more profitable. Usually they’re thinking about some new tool for cultivating weeds quickly, or maybe for washing salad mix faster, or preparing perfect seed beds with speed. Those kinds of tool purchases are tempting because they hold the illusion that simply by putting down x hundred dollars, the farm will then be able to make x hundred dollars more and thus will be more profitable. Usually it’s not that simple.

The tool I’ve always been most interested in using to make the farm more profitable is financial analysis. This may lead to the purchases of tools like the ones mentioned above, but it also helps to avoid putting down x hundred dollars on a tool only to realize that it’s costing more to use the tool than it’s bringing in. Further, it’s the best tool for figuring out where to target efforts for new tool purchases, or even just simple system improvements on the farm.

There are two books that came out in the last few years that I’ve been highly recommending: Fearless Farm Finances and The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook. For farmers just starting out and working with small scale diverse vegetable operations The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook is particularly suited to explaining the business side, and even a little of the production side, of just such an operation. Written from a single farmer’s perspective it describes the well thought out, and relatively simple but effective systems of a successful, diverse vegetable operation. Fearless Farm Finances gathers information and voices from a wide variety of farms, not just vegetable operations, and it takes a deeper look at financial management tools and approaches to managing the business side of farms. These are both great books, useful for both beginning and seasoned farmers and they approach the topic from different enough perspectives that they work well as companions.

For folks who are interested in learning more first hand, Chris Blanchard, based in the Midwest and one of the farmer authors of Fearless Farm Finances, is putting on a workshop in January in Illinois, Rutabagas to Riches. I’ve seen him speak at the MOSES conference and he definitely does a great job of presenting the information in a usable way.

Richard Wiswall, based in New England and the author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, also offers workshops and speaks at conferences. You can find out more about his upcoming talks at his website.

Here in the Northwest its been good to see this topic gaining traction as well. I’ve tried to work many of the tools talked about in these books into workshops I’ve been teaching. For years I felt like it was almost taboo with many farmers worrying that taking a business approach was tantamount to letting the economics drive the farm. Like any tool, the tool should not be driving the farm, it should be used where it is most effective and it has to be applied appropriately to be effective. There’s a learning curve with any tool, and no tool works in every situation. These books offer powerful, useful tools, but remember that they’re just that, tools.


Italy Teaser

Carlo Petrini speaking at the opening ceremony for Terra Madre, flanked by delegates from 150 countries
Carlo Petrini speaking at the opening ceremony for Terra Madre, flanked by delegates from 150 countries

Since getting back from Italy I’ve been trying to find time to go through my journal, notes and photos and to get some stories and articles written up. So far I haven’t been very successful in finding much time, but I have been constantly thinking about the events and many of the stories have been starting to form as I tell abbreviated versions to friends who ask how the trip was.

Yesterday I sat down at my computer, finally got around to downloading the photos from my phone (in addition to the several thousand I took with a DSLR), and I made a little list of topics I’d like to flesh out in future blog posts, talks and articles. I’ll post that list here in hopes that it spurs me to action.


Advice to myself for the “next time” I go to Terra Madre

This is something I should have done after the first round, although I think I did a pretty good job of remembering a lot of this when I went this time. My experience was definitely different this time, largely because it was the second time I’d been, but also just because the event itself has changed over time. I definitely would make changes in my approach next time though so I need to get these down for myself, and maybe they would act as useful suggestions for other folks headed to the event.

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Kathryn Lynch Underwood speaking in a workshop on urban agriculture.

Reflections on Conversations with Jim Embry and Kathryn Lynch Underwood

I had a lot of conversations with delegates from all over the world but there were two that stood out for me, telling stories I think are important within the context of Slow Food and how it is integral to what we sometimes think of as larger issues of socio-economic status, cultural diversity, and equity.

Differences between 2006 and 2014

A lot of this will probably come out in other stories, but it might deserve a post of its own. The event has grown in many senses since the first time I attended. Mostly I think that was for the good, some of it was just different, but there were also a few things that I missed from the first time I attended.

View from inside the US booth at Terra Madre during the speakeasy. Much socializing between delegates from all over the US, and passersby from all over the world.
View from inside the US booth at Terra Madre during the speakeasy. Much socializing between delegates from all over the US, and passersby from all over the world.

The US Speakeasy

This was a great way to meet other delegates and I have a few little vignettes that might make a larger story. My longer conversation with Jim Embry started here, but before that even happened there were a number of little scenes that unfolded and added a lot to the Terra Madre experience that was unexpected.

Riding the Bus, Eating at the Canteen, and Being More Outgoing

As it was in 2006, the bus yielded some of the best conversations and connections of the entire event. The canteen had similar potential, and I really forced myself to be more outgoing than usual, which generally created many more wonderful small interactions with delegates from all over the world, many of which held valuable little tidbits, not to mention crazy coincidences.

Annie Hehner was one of the many delegates I met riding the bus to and from the event. In the six days I was there I rode the bus 10 times, spending at least 30 minutes per ride talking to delegates.
Annie Hehner was one of the many delegates I met riding the bus to and from the event. In the six days I was there I rode the bus 10 times, spending at least 30 minutes per ride talking to delegates.

Meeting Paula

Paula Gaska was someone I worked with through email a number of years ago, but never actually had the opportunity to meet in person. The story of actually meeting at Terra Madre brings up a few points about the event I would like to share.

The Ark of Taste had amazing displays of all sorts of foods from all over the world, including this selection of apple varieties that have particular importance.
The Ark of Taste had amazing displays of all sorts of foods from all over the world, including this selection of apple varieties that have particular importance.

Learning more about the Ark and Presidia

I recently agreed to sit on the Ark selection committee for our region, but without a good understanding of what the Ark actually is. Terra Madre and the Salone provided a great opportunity to get more familiar with the worldwide Ark, as well as the Presidia, and to think about how it applies in our area.

A wonderful display of beans from Lucca. I came across this display just after watching a short film in a workshop on seeds about bringing back the Scritto variety pictured here.
A wonderful display of beans from Lucca. I came across this display just after watching a short film in a workshop on seeds about bringing back the Scritto variety pictured here after it was nearly lost.

Growing Beans and Corn Together

I grow corn and beans together and these were two crops that were relatively easier to find at the Salone than vegetables so they became a focus of mine during the event. I was a bit surprised to find an Italian grower there that was also growing them together.

Many delegates dressed in traditional costumes from their particular regions. The Sami were some of my favorites and I regret not having talked to them while there.
Many delegates dressed in traditional costumes from their particular regions. The Sami outfits were some of my favorites and I regret not having talked to them while there.

The Distraction of Products

At some point I realized I was getting distracted by products as consumer good, and what I was really wanting was to focus more on products as connection to the people and producers. I’d like to expand that thought a bit.

Creating Slow Vegetables?

After leaving Torino we visited a Biodyamic vegetable grower near Lucca who had just gone to the Salone (and Torino) for the first time. Like me, he was disappointed in the lack of vegetables at the event and we agreed there should be a Slow Vegetables component, just as there was a strong Slow Fish and Slow Honey component.

Hunchback cardoons growing at Azienda Agricola Nico near Lucca. The ones in the center have been buried for blanching, and the ones on the right are waiting to be buried.
Hunchback cardoons growing at Azienda Agricola Nico near Lucca. The ones in the center have been buried for blanching, and the ones on the right are waiting to be buried.

Growing hunchback cardoons

That same grower showed us the way he blanches cardoons, a method that had been described to me, but he passed on some critical details which make me want to try the process and that I should write out for others.

Being Recognized in Pistoia (the reach of Slow Food and Terra Madre in Italy)

This is a funny little story from traveling after Terra Madre.

Demonstrating how to make a green radicchio look like castlefranco by peeling back leaves. Our hosts from T&T Seeds were incredibly generous with time and knowledge.
Demonstrating how to make a green radicchio look like castlefranco by peeling back leaves. Our hosts from T&T Seeds were incredibly generous with time and knowledge.

Growing chicories

We went on a great (4+ hour) tour of T&T Seeds and learned a lot about growing chicories. This definitely deserves a write up, and probably a longer article that collects information from other growers in the US that are growing chicories and experimenting with Italian methods as well as new approaches.

Gio and Naturasì

In 2006 Gio was our chaperone at Terra Madre. On this trip I had a chance to visit her in Verona and learn more about the company she works for, Ecor/Naturasì. I knew that they were a large natural food chain, but I didn’t realize the extent of their commitment to organic and biodynamic producers. I think they may have a model that we should be looking at in the US.

Terra Madre 2014 and Updates

Terra Madre
Looking out over a small portion of the non Italian section of the completely overwhelming Salone del Gusto, Torino, 2015

Last Wednesday evening I got back from a two week trip to Italy which was amazing and completely overwhelming. The Italy trip started with the marathon event that is Terra Madre, now integrated into the enormous Slow Food show the Salone del Gusto. From there I traveled to Tuscany and then Chioggia, visiting farms and seeing a lot of the country side between. My final stop was Verona where I fell into bed sick, but managed to recover enough to have a nice visit with my friend Gio who works for the fascinating food company NaturaSì, now part of Ecor. Coming back, I stepped straight back into harvest and deliveries on the farm and then a presented a workshop on equipment at Tilth Producers 40th annual conference with my friend Chris Jagger from Blue Fox Farm in southern Oregon. It’s been a whirlwind and I wish I had a week just to process it all, get my notes straight and fill this blog and my websites with stories and information I gleaned while I was there.

I will be talking about my experience at Terra Madre at Slow Food Portland’s upcoming Terra Madre Talks event on the afternoon of December 7, and maybe showing a few slides. I’ll certainly be slowly working on getting some of the stories and photos posted on this website over time. Recently a lot of my internet content uploading has been through my instagram feed, simple photos and extended comments/conversations with other growers there (of course it’s mixed in with a bit of other stuff too).

One last note before I get back to writing agricultural plans for other folks and trying to figure out the plan for vegetable expansion at Our Table, where I’ve been growing for the past two years – Don’t forget that the amazing and dynamic Michael Ableman and I are teaching our Growing for Family, Neighborhood and Market workshop at the stunningly beautiful seaside, hot springs retreat, Esalen, December 12-14. Please sign up, please let everyone you know know to sign up. We want to see you all there and spend the weekend talking vegetables and soaking in hot water while overlooking the ocean!

Feeding the Future Workshop


This December 12-14 I’ll be co-teaching a workshop titled Feeding the Future: Growing for Family, Neighborhood and Market at Esalen on the central coast of California. Michael Ableman and I have been teaching a version of this workshop at his farm in Canada for the past four years and this year we’re excited to bring it to such a beautiful location.

Esalen is a beautiful and special place overlooking the Pacific Ocean, dedicated to education and research. They have a variety of lodging options and spectacular hot springs and gardens.

Please join us for what should be a very special weekend of fun learning and sharing of ideas on how to create spaces on all scales that are productive and that feed ourselves and our communities.

How I Make Wooden Boxes

Wooden Box

When I made our CSA boxes last year I took a bunch of photos of the process, fully intending to write up the process. This was partly for myself so that the next time I go to make them I remember what I did and partly to share. I’ve finally gotten around to it, partly inspired by Carri from Pitchfork and Crow asking about them last week after I posted a photo on Instagram. You can read about the details of how I made them on the Q&A page here.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Like always I’m hoping to get around to putting more articles up on the site soon and giving more updates through the blog. I’m also working on updating the workshops page soon. Most of what I’ve been up to lately is scaling up the vegetable production at Our Table Cooperative. I write short weekly posts on the CSA shares over there so that’s my most regular outlet right now.

Terra Madre Again

Terra Madre 2006

As a little precursor to this note, I have to acknowledge, it’s been too long since my last post. Things are definitely busy so that’s good, but I’ll see if I can make a bit more time for posting soon. A completely non farm related, but very inspiring blog I’ve been reading lately had a post starting out with the same feeling I frequently have after not posting for a while. You can see that here if you’re interested – and if you want to get sucked into this very creative fellow’s work I suggest ignoring his present situation and start a ways back with something like this.


So, about Terra Madre, it’s happening again this year and they’re calling for applicants for the USA delegation. I’m super tempted to apply again. After my first experience there I felt like it would be great to go back knowing a little more about what to expect.

This morning I was preparing for an interview about my Terra Madre experience for a little promotional piece that Cheryl Brock from Slow Food Portland is putting together. I went to look back at my journal entries (which are online) and realized that the links never made it into the post I meant to put them in a few years back. So, I’ve updated that post and I’m also putting them here.

More on Planning


You might recognize the photo above from a post in January where I linked to the spreadsheets that I use for mapping and planning. I just posted versions of articles I wrote for Growing for Market back in 2010 on the same topic. The articles are in the Q&A section of the site.

One other note of interest: I also made a minor update to my site. And, you might notice that the header photos at and now match. It’s not me in the photo (I took it, as is the case with practically all of the photos on the site, including the ones of me) but it is the new farm site at Our Table.


Lots of Tool Photos

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I just added four new photo journals to the site:

This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while and is still somewhat incomplete but will have to do for now. It was inspired partly by a class I’m teaching at Clackamas Community College on farm tools and I wanted to make sure folks in the class had access to the photos I’ve been showing in class.

They are all photos I’ve taken over the past few years. If there are mistakes in the captions, or omissions, or if you have comments please let me know.

The Bullitt One Year Later

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It’s been a year and 5000 miles since I started delivering with the Bullitt cargo bike. Last year after a test ride I wrote a review with my initial impressions. I’ve written a second review with what I’ve learned since then. It’s still a great ride and I’m excited to see what another year looks like.

I also made a minor update to my review from last year on the Biologic Case for the iPhone. It’s great for the bike and works well around the farm as well.

I’m also working on getting a few farm equipment slide shows up on the site. Look for those soon.