Foeniculum vulgare dulce
The fennel cultivar that produces a swollen, bulb like stem at the bottom is often called Florence fennel as opposed to it’s herb like sibling the bronze fennel that is cultivated as a decorative plant. Both are cultivars of the wild fennel plant that originates in the Mediterranean and can grow up to 2 meters in hight. Fennel seeds are collected from this wild form.
In the garden we grow the Florence fennel variety for the bulby white stems that are about 10 cm in diameter and up to 25 cm high. The whole plant grows to a height of about 60 cm.
While the green stems above the bulb are stringy, the actual bulb is tender and can be enjoyed raw and cooked. Both the bulb and the fine green fronds have a sweet aniseed flavour. Fennel is a rich source of B vitamins, iron and calcium.
How to grow:
Fennel likes to grow in rich, well drained soil that has a lot of compost added. They love a sunny spot.
Sow clusters of 3 or 4 seeds 5 mm deep and 10 cm apart directly into the bed.
Seedlings germinate slowly. When the plants are 10 cm high they need to be singled out, so they have about 30 cm space in all directions.
Fertilise every fortnight with liquid fertiliser. Keep well mulched.
Fennel needs 14 to 16 weeks to harvest.
Growing in the neighbourhood:
Fennel is a loner and likes to other vegetables in the same bed.
Pests and other problems and how we deal with them:
Fennel isn’t prone to pest problems. Mature bulbs need to be harvested to prevent slugs and snails to eat the sweet treats.
Fennel needs soil temperatures above 10 C to germinate. Good times to start fennel are September or March.
Fennel is biannual, they would need to be left in quite long to have the chance to go to seed.
How to harvest and use:
Fennel is simply pulled as needed and can be harvested over a long period.
Fennel can be eaten raw and cooked. They are a very versatile vegetable. Remove the green stems (which are stringy) and remove the small hard core at the root area.
Thinly slice to prepare a salad, traditionally a good combination with lemon-juice, black olives and orange slices.
Cut into big dice or segments and roast with olive oil in the oven or braise as a great vegetable that pairs beautifully with white fish, chicken or pork dishes.
Braised fennel placed in a shortcrust tart-shell, covered with egg-wash and baked makes a stunning savoury veg tart. Sauted with onions it’s a base for risotto.
Fennel doesn’t need much more than pepper and salt, because it comes with tons of flavour by nature. It pairs well with bacon, butter, olive oil, citrus, potatoes, onions, olives, leek, apple, eggs, feta and goats curd.