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Fennel, from seed to harvest

Fennel growing in a vegetable patch.

Fennel is a plant for which the roots are the part we eat and its nutritious and culinary value is exceptional. It is a very good summer vegetable.

Key fennel facts

Name – Foeniculum dulce
Family – Apiaceae (parsley family)
Type – biennial

Height – 16 to 24 inches (40 to 60 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary to rich

Harvest – July to December, 3 months after sowing

Planting, sowing fennel

Fennel seeds.It is a good idea to sow in a sheltered place starting from the month of March and April and up till the month of July.

Fennel loves rather light, rich and relatively cool soil.

  • Favor sowing in a nursery if you’re sowing in March and April or sow directly in the plot during the month of May.
  • Dig furrows 2 inches (5 cm) deep every 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm).
  • Cover seeds with ½ inch (1 cm) soil.
  • Keep the soil mix a little moist and water regularly using a gentle drizzle after sprouting.
  • Once the first leaves have sprouted from the ground, thin down to about 8 inches (20 cm).
  • Transplant to the vegetable patch after the last frost spells, starting from the month of May.

It helps to enrich the soil with manure-based fertilizer in order to enhance growth.

  • It also is a good practice to ridge your plants as they grow, so that you may blanch their bulbs as you would leek.
  • Stop ridging when the ridge is 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) tall.

Harvesting and keeping fennel

Harvested fennel.There are actually two parts of the plant that can be collected. Most common is to eat the head of fennel as a vegetable.

You can collect your fennel whenever you need it, depending on how large the heads have become.

Once the first frosts have hit, pull all your fennel out and keep it in a cool, ventilated and rather dark place.

The best way to keep your fennel is to store them in a cellar in crates filled with sand. If you haven’t any cellar, freeze them in a freezer.

But fennel seeds are also delicious and can be used in cooking just like cumin or aniseed.

Learn more about fennel

An excellent vegetable known for its nutritious value as well as its digestive and antioxidant properties, fennel is an admirable addition to most of the summer dishes you can prepare, and its aniseed-like flavor will enchant you.

Fennel flowersSo the health benefits of fennel are well acknowledged, and fennel is delicious when integrated into culinary recipes with its light taste of aniseed.

Although the Mediterranean diet is where it is most present, fennel is grown more or less everywhere in mild climate regions.

Also, remember not to confuse fennel with dill because even though the two plants look alike and that dill is sometimes called the “bastard fennel”, they are quite different. Likewise, although the taste is very similar to that of aniseed, the leaves which are very different will help you tell them apart.

Smart tip about fennel

Collect all the small grains of that appear at the end of the small yellow flowers and add them to your ‘Fleur de sel’ fine table salt.

They’re delicious to flavor your meals, especially recipes with fish.

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Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY-NC 2.0: Valerie Becker
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