Fennel foeniculum vulgare originated from around the Mediterranean and prefers full sun, although it will tolerate partial shade.
It is a hardy perennial herb with a distinctive aniseed taste.
The leaves, and seeds can be used fresh or dried, to give an aniseed flavour to fish, and cheese dishes, and the stems can be eaten raw in salads.
The thick swollen stems at the base of the plant an be cooked and served as a vegetable.
Mature Fennel stem
Common fennel: can grow to a height of 600-1200mm (3-4ft) with a bulbous stem at its base.
Pinch off the flower stems as soon as they form, unless the seeds are to be harvested.
Florence fennel: is an annual plant, similar in appearance to common fennel, but smaller.
It generally grows to a height of around 600mm (24") and also has a bulbous stem at its base.
The best results are obtained if given a warm sunny position, and is planted in light, sandy soils, however, any fertile, well-drained soil will do.
Do not plant near coriander or dill as this may lead to cross-fertilisation and a poor crop.
Sow a pinch of seed into a 70mm (3”) pot,and grow on at a temperature of 15°-20°C(60°-70°F).
Plants resent transplanting, so using biodegradeable pots that can be planted is a good option.
Germination should take around 8-10 days
Plants have a tendency to bolt, so to ensure a continuity of young leaves, make successional sowings at three to four week intervals.
Remove all but the strongest seedlings when large enough to handle and grow on in a cold frame until planting out time.
Prepare beds by raking in a general fertilizer at 60gms per sq metre (2oz / sq yd)
When all fear of frost has passed, sow seeds 12mm (½") deep into drills approximately 500mm (18”) apart.
Plant out pot grown seedlings 300 mm apart in pre-prepared ground.
Thin the seedlings to around 300-400mm (12"-15") apart when they are large enough to handle.
Water well during dry spells!
As the stem bases of young plants begin to swell, they should be earthed up in trenches or covered with paper collars to blanch the bulbs.
Gather the swollen stem bases for cooking as required.
Leaves can be gathered for deep freezing.
If required, collect and dry seed then store them in an air tight container until they are required.
When the plants die back, cover the rootball area with a 75mm (3") mulch to give protection to the roots during the winter months.