The pungent aroma and the rich, earthy flavour of fennel make it a favourite with chefs and home cooks alike. Plus, its green fronds can be used to garnish dishes and make them stand out. If you are having trouble growing your own, I have some great tips for you that really worked well for me.
The first thing you need to determine is what type of fennel you want to grow. You have two choices – the common herb fennel called foeniculum vulgare which is known for its anise flavor and its strong seeds. The second type is called Florence fennel which produces a crisp bulb of fennel that tastes like celery.
So if you want to grow fennel to harvest the crisp bulbs, go for the latter and if you want to grow it for the fronds i.e. for seasoning, go for the former. For this guide, I will tell you how to grow Florence fennel.
How to Grow Fennel
Plant the Fennel Seeds
Make sure that you plant the seeds in fertile and well-drained soil and in a spot that gets a lot of sunlight. Make sure that it isn’t packed too tightly or the seeds won’t have room to grow. You can also add some compost to improve drainage. Then, plant the seeds about 10 inches apart from one another and cover each with a light layer of the soil. Make sure you plant more than you need so you can get a substantial amount.
Nurture the Fennel
Water the soil regularly to ensure it remains moist and till the fennel seeds establish themselves. Do not add more water than necessary as this may cause root rot (http://isss.ind.in/pdf/2014volume/2.pdf). If the soil is packed loosely and drains well, you will not need to add more.
Once the bulb starts to form at the base of the fennel seedlings or stem make small hills of soil around them. This will shade the fennel plants from the sun and will prevent them from turning green. This procedure is called ‘blanching’ and its main purpose is to ensure the bulbs remain white and sweet. Of course, if you are growing this fennel just to harvest the fronds, you can skip this step.
Harvesting Fennel Leaves
You can also harvest the fronds once the plant is well established and before the bulbs emerge. However, don’t go overboard or you may do lasting damage. Those delicate fronds can be added to salads or soups. If you want to use the fronds regularly, plant multiple plants and harvest one a week. Just make sure that you keep watering the plants and replenish the soil after each harvest.
Harvest the Fennel Bulb
The best time to harvest fennel is when the bulbs are about the size of tennis balls. To take them out, just take a sharp knife and slice them cleanly off from ground level. Plus, cut off the stem three to six inches above the bulb. Flowering fennel plants are edible from top to bottom.
Fennel bulbs will survive in the winter so you don’t need to harvest them immediately when the weather starts to turn cold. Just make sure you harvest them before they get too big. Overlarge bulbs are bitter in taste (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU-q6M1bQNo).
Harvesting Fennel Seeds
Once the growing fennel turns ripe and the flowers turn brown, you can harvest the seeds safely. These are quite easy to remove since they are attached loosely to fennel plants. Just place a bowl underneath the plant and give the seed head several shakes to dislodge the seeds.
Don’t store the seeds till they have a chance to dry out completely or they will get ruined. When they are dry, store them in a cool and dark spot in an airtight container. If this is done properly, the seeds should last for six months.
Q: Where does fennel grow best?
A: Herb fennel and Florence fennel are Mediterranean crops and are normally grown as annuals. It can survive in spots that get light frost.
Q: Can you grow fennel in pots?
A: Yes, you can grow fennel in pots indoors. Just make sure that they are big enough to accommodate the plants as they grow. The taproot is large enough to merit depth. Plus, you will need to pile more soil around the plants if you are growing them to harvest the bulbs. The pile of soil will protect them from the sun.
Q: Why doesn’t my fennel have a bulb?
A: Chances are you are growing fennel of the wrong type (Foeniculum vulgare does not get bulbs) or you planted too late. However, the good news is that you can still use the stalks, seeds and the leaves.
Q: How do you know when to harvest fennel?
A: The best time to harvest fennel is during the fall. That is when the plant matures and turns brown. However, in some cases, the plant fails to produce seeds until the second year of its sowing.
Q: What can be planted next to fennel?
A: Fennel is not a good companion plant for most vegetables. While it can be plated near dill, the two can end up cross-pollinating. In fact, fennel can also inhibit the growth of tomatoes, bush beans and other veggies. So if you are growing fennel, plant more fennel near it and no other vegetable or herbs. That way you can get a good crop going without compromising the other veggies you are growing.
Q: Should fennel be planted in the sun or in shade?
A: It prefers the sun. Fennel should be planted in a spot which gets at least six hours of sunlight.
Growing fennel is not difficult and the best part is that it is an aggressive grower so you can get a good crop going. Just make sure that you:
- Don’t overwater the plants.
- Make sure the soil is well-draining.
- Protect the bulbs from the sun as they emerge.
- Harvest the bulbs on time before they turn bitter.
If you have any questions about growing this succulent vegetable, leave your questions in the comments below and I will get back to you.