How to Grow Fennel

March 17, 2009

This week’s delightful vegetable is Fennel

This week’s delightful vegetable is Fennel– it tastes delicious, is very versatile, and is very easy to grow. What more could one ask?
You start the seeds off in small pots in spring – this basically means whenever, in your part of the world, you step out of your front door and notice that everything is greening up nicely; it could be March, April or even May depending where you live.
When your little plants are looking as though they would like to move on, plant them out in your vegetable plot, or in a flower border, in decent sized flowerpots or even in window boxes. This last idea is very good if you are going to chop off the feathery leaves quite often for salads or fish, but be warned, fennel is an enthusiastic grower. It will be tall, up to a meter, and if growing well will need a lot of watering.
Provided the plants have a sunny position they are almost certain to do well and as they are both beautiful and delicious tasting (fennel leaves have a wonderful scent and taste of aniseed) they are well worth the bother. There is a bronze variety which is especially pretty and is not quite such a rampant grower.
Towards the end of summer, the base will start to thicken up and this can be harvested and used sliced in salads, or braised as a vegetable to go with chicken or fish. If you have a long enough growing season it may be worth your while to let some of the plants remain in their place (with some straw or fleece to protect them from hard winter frosts) and then once spring comes round again they can be carefully dug up with a garden fork and split into several new plants.
Finally, at the end of summer, should you wish, you can cut the ripe flower heads, place each in a paper (not plastic) bag and hang them somewhere cool and darkish to dry off for the seeds. If you do this, check them from time to time, and throw away any that have gone mouldy or sad looking just keeping the crispest dry heads. Pretty soon you should be able to shake the seeds from the flower head, and once you are sure they are really dry, store in a clean dry jam jar and use in soups and sauces.
As always,
Happy horticulture,