Easy Tips for Growing Fennel
Fennel is a vegetable that I discovered last year, or maybe it was the year before…it was not so long ago. It is a valuable kitchen garden addition as all parts of the plant may be used in cooking. The fine, feathery, soft leaves can be harvested while you wait for the bulb to grow and mature.
Fennel is a member of the carrot family of Umbelliferae. The flavor is of aniseed, warm and sweet. I predominately grow Florence Fennel, Foeniculum Dulce – Sweet Fennel. The plant is said to be indigenous to Europe. It was favored during the Roman Empire for it’s digestive properties. It is described as a stomach tonic, antispasmodic and popularly regarded to have slimming properties.
The essential oil of Fennel is extracted by steam distillation of the bulb. The oil is defined as digestive and also calming for both the mind and the body, useful for reducing stress and nerves.
How to plant Fennel:
Plant 20-30 cm apart in a well drained sandy soil. A dense soil will not result in good growth of this vegetable.
Fennel can be grown from seed but care must be taken when transplanting seedlings. Rough treatment may lead to bolting. Try to maintain the buffer of soil around the seedling that they have been raised in when transplanting and be sure to water well, preferably with seaweed solution to avoid transplant shock.
Companion plants for Fennel:
Avoid planting Fennel near:
If you have a dog it is recommended that you plant fennel near the kennel to keep fleas at bay! We do not have a dog so I cannot attest to the validity of this particular tip….
How to grow Fennel:
Fennel plants will tolerate a mild frost but fluctuating temperatures will probably cause the plant to bolt and the bulb will not develop.
Water well during the early growth period and then regularly. Do not allow the soil to dry out.
As the plant develops and the bulb swells mound soil half way up the bulb.
When to harvest Fennel:
Fennel bulbs can be harvested when they are the size of tennis balls, roughly 5-7 cm across. Growing time is approximately 10 weeks.
Use the feathery leaves in cooking as well as the base, these can be harvested at any time during while the plant grows.
The seeds are also a valuable addition to the kitchen pantry and can be collected once they turn from green to brown.
The stems may also be used in cooking. They are a wonderful addition to soup and stock.
The plant will grow to 60-90 cm in height.
Cooking with Fennel:
The texture of Fennel is similar to celery, crisp but with a stronger flavor. The stems, bulb and feathery leaves may all be used in cooking.
Fennel partners well with fish. In Italy the leaves are added to the bottom of the pan used to bake bread – sounds divine does it not? I am yet to try this but have it on my list to try ASAP.
Slicing the bulb finely and placing it in the fridge in a bowl of ice and water will provide a fresh gorgeous crisp addition to a salad.
The flavor of fennel is perfect for Italian cooking, it pairs well with tomato, olives and garlic.
My friend Liz from Bizzy Lizzy Good Things recently wrote this great post on the history and culinary uses of Fennel. If you have not done so before take a read of her ideas.
These are some of the ways I used our harvest last year. I will be adding many more this year:
Matthew Biggs, The Complete Book of Vegetables, Kyle Cathie Limited, London, 2010
Dorothy Hall, The Book of Herbs, Angus and Robertson, Cremore, 1972
Simon Y Mills, The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London, 1991
Are you growing Fennel this season? Do you have any other growing tips to add to this list? Please share your experience in the comments below
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