This wonderful plant (Foeniculum Vulgare) may be declared both a spice and a vegetable, and it is used in cooking and as a medicine As such, apart from appearing in numerous dishes, it has been applied back in time for years as a characteristic remedy, primarily for stomach problems. It is also applied to infants for excessive crying. 

The plant has a great anise flavour that works well in both exquisite and sweet recipes, as it is so versatile. The onion-shaped bulbs are usually added to plates of mixed greens (either boiled, grilled or raw), and the delicate padded fronds can be added to plates of mixed greens and soups to give a more delicate flavour. Fennel is also used raw in salads to give it that extra flavour.

You may need to set aside a portion of your veg plot for two types of fennel, depending on how you intend to use it. The “Florence Fennel” (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) variety is used more like a vegetable and is developed for its bulbous stem. “Spice fennel” does not form a very notable bulb and is usually grown for its foliage and used as a spice.

Sowing Fennel

The ideal approach for growing the varieties is from seeds. If you have mature plants, you could actually try dividing the crown, the part where the stems meet the roots.

However, these plants have long, delicate taproots and do not like to be disturbed. With this in mind, you do have the option of taking a cutting or attempting a division, but it may not be transplanted effectively. I think it is best to grow them from seed, personally. The seeds can be collected from the plants after they have flowered or purchased from quality suppliers.

Sow the seeds as early in the season as you can, then transplant the seedlings 10 -12” inches (25 – 30cm) apart. It is best to then do another sowing in midsummer if you want some fennel in the Autumn


Growing Fennel

Fennel is a perennial that sprouts best the following year. It reseeds quickly, and because it is not considered intrusive, it has become known for its vigorous growth. It can grow very tall. Fennel can be cut back early on in the season to encourage bushier development and can be deflowered for seed collection and prevent the growth of new plants. 

Collect and dry the seeds when the flower heads wilt. There is only one caveat to the best way to grow fennel: don’t plant it near to where you have planted dill. Cross-pollination results in abnormally amplified seeds from the two plants. 

Once established, fennel spice doesn’t need much looking after or tending. It prefers a fertile soil, appreciates a regular portion of gentle compost and a little extra watering f the weather is dry, and hot. 

Make sure it doesn’t actually dry out, or it might ‘bolt’. Some gardeners advocate earthing up the bulbs, like you do with potatoes, but I have never found this necessary. Also, if and when you buy seeds, choose seeds that are bolt resistant.

Regardless of its culinary obligations, planting fennel will attract advantageous bugs to the vegetable plot. Be on the hunt for slugs and snails, as you do not want the bulbs to be munched on.

You can harvest fennel leaves as and when you want them, and this actually encourages more growth. The seeds can be gathered when they are ready, in late summer. Be careful of early frosts in the autumn though. 

By far the easiest way to harvest fennel seeds is to shake the seed heads over a cloth or screen to collect the seeds. Allow the bulbous roots to dry thoroughly before storing them in a cool, shady place. Bulbous fennel (Florence) can be harvested when the stem base is swollen. Pull up the plants when required in order to have fresh fennel for your cooking, and collect any bulbs that are still in the ground toward the end of the period before the first frosts.

Common Problems

There are no serious problems associated with fennel plants. However, it can be eaten by slugs and snails, as pointed out earlier, caterpillars. But the caterpillars later develop into butterfly caterpillars, which are best suited for the pollination process. So it is not a problem at all. Also, sometimes the plant can be attacked by aphids, which can be avoided by spraying pesticides, or squashing between your thumb and finger.

There are some great recipes using fennel. Go to Olive Magazine to discover how to use this popular plant.

Here are a few of the varieties of fennel:

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06/22/2021 | Herbs | 0 Comments

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