Growing fennel around the vegetable garden can add a great taste variety to your cooking.
The whole plant can be used including the leaves furans, stems, seeds and bulb.
Bulb fennel or anise fennel love cool weather so it can be tricky to grow in warmer climates.
If you live in the southern regions or in a more temperate climate, fennel can be a nice winter vegetable.
In the northern regions where the winters get below freezing you will need to grow fennel in the early spring or fall.
Florence fennel: Matures in 60 to 90 days, grows to 30 inches in full sun.
Orin Hybrid: Matures in 80 to 85 days, grows to 24 inches in full sun.
Although the seed packets state that fennel matures in 60 to 90 days, you need a good 90 to 100 days to form a nice size bulb and cool weather in the 50’s and 60’s. If the days get hot fennel can bolt and go to seed.
But not all is lost as the leaves and seeds are good to eat. Use the leaves to flavor salads and dressings similar to dill leaves.
Fennel seeds are used to flavor Italian sausages and in the Middle East the seeds are roasted and chewed as a after dinner breath fresher and to promote digestion.
Fennel seeds have a mild liquorice flavor and can ease heartburn if chewed and swallowed with water.
Fennel can be sown directly into the ground or started from seeds indoors and planted out as transplants.
If you have a short growing season, using transplants can really get a jump on the season.
Plant fennel in a spot with full sun. Fennel needs a good soil with lots of organic matter to keep it growing over the 3 months it needs to form a bulb.
For direct sowing of seeds sow in rows 18 inches apart. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep and lightly water. Seedlings should emerge in 10 to 14 days. Hot weather will deter germination of the seeds so be sure to keep the soil moist during germination.
When the seedlings are about 2 to 3 inches in height thin the plants to about 8 to 10 inches apart in the rows.
For transplants start your seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date. When seedlings are about 6 to 8 inches tall they can be planted outside if all danger of frost has past.
Separate your fennel plants and plant in rows 18 inches apart or in a wide row with 12 inches between the plants. Water well and mulch around the plants to keep the moisture in the soil. Keep the soil moist by not soggy.
Fennel leaves can be harvest as the plant grows. But don’t over harvest the leaves or it can stunt the growth of the plant.
Harvest the growing fennel bulb when it reaches the size of your fist. Dig the bulb up and trim the leaves back to the bulb about 2 inches.
Store the fennel bulbs in the refrigerator in a loose plastic bag. Fennel is best if eaten fresh. Use it in salads raw or lightly sautéed in butter or soups.
Harvest fennel seeds the same as Dill seeds. Pick the flower heads before the flowers are fully bloomed and place seed heads in a paper or plastic bag. As the seeds dry they will fall to the bottom of the bag.
If you have a year when the fennel does not bulb up keep trying. It is worth the effort and can be depended on the weather that year. You will always have leaves and seeds for your efforts.