The fantastic fennel
Organic fennel is a fantastic edible perennial plant. Being a perennial, it lasts for more than 2 years. I first tasted fennel when a chef friend made us dinner and served thinly sliced coconut cream baked fennel. From that moment on, the love affair began!
It has fairly wide spreading and deep roots and this makes it fairly drought resistant. This is particularly the case if your organic fennel is planted in a fertile soil.
The edible parts of fennel grow above the ground. We can eat the bulb shaped part of the plant, the leaves or the seeds – which are medicinal.
Environmental conditions for fennel
Fennel is a full sun plant. This means it prefers about 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. This includes summer and winter. However, fennel can suffer in a really hot summer so a bit of shade cloth in the middle of summer provides it with some relief. Otherwise, we need to provide it with more water.
Depending upon the structure and fertility of the soil, organic fennel does not require a lot of water. If you would like to read more about organic gardening methods, read my blog titled: How to grow plants organically using organic methods.
Organic fennel is one plant that communicates its thirst. The leaves will start to droop when organic fennel is thirsty and she needs water. After adding the water we see her response within an hour. If we don’t see the leaves perk up, we should check the soil and make sure it isn’t hydrophobic.
Organic fennel will thrive in a rich, fertile soil. That means it wants a soil full of organic matter, worms and microbes. To read about how to transform dirt into soil, read my blog called: How to make healthy soil – transforming dirt into soil.
Fennel tends to perform well in sandy or clay based soils so long as they fertile and top-dressed with a compost at least twice a year.
We can harvest the leaves of our organic fennel at any time except when she flowering. They make an excellent ingredient in raw or cooked meals. We can harvest the bulbous part at any time also. I have so much fennel that I often harvest juvenile bulbs rather then waiting for them to plump up.
However, if we wait the bulbs will flesh out and grow bigger and we’ll have more fennel to eat.
But note: if we wait too long and if we’re mindful, we’ll notice the stalk starting to stretch higher and the bulb starting to shrink in size. Harvest now or lose your chance!
The plant is about to flower. Once that process begins the fennel becomes a bit woody and not very nice to eat.
I have found that fennel tends to multiply from the one plant. When we cut off a bulbous part, the stem tends to shoot from the sides. This produces 3-6 more bulbous parts. So one plant can, in the second and third year, produce 15-20 bulbs.
Fennel flowers and seed
The flowers are on stalks that can reach 1.5 metres in height. They are small and yellow in colour. Bees and hoverflies are attracted to organic fennel flowers and do a great job pollinating. After a few weeks seeds will start forming and we can collect these.
Otherwise, allowing seed to fall will usually produce hundreds of fennel seedlings. I let my organic fennel seeds fall and I harvest the fennel shoots and add them to meals. They’re soft and really good to eat.
Germinating organic fennel seeds
Fennel seeds germinate within 14 days if the season is appropriate and the soil and watering conditions are right for germination.
The most appropriate time for germinating fennel seed is autumn and winter – after their flowering season. They like a fertile, well draining mix of fine compost. They will germinate better with a bit of humidity. I use 50mm tube pots to germinate organic fennel for sale. Otherwise for my garden, I’ll let the fennel seeds germinate themselves. I now have one garden bed dedicated to organic heirloom fennel.
5 ways we might use our organic fennel
We can use the leaves of fennel in salads as an uncooked salad vegetable. I also use the stalks of the leaves as I love the crunch factor!
We can also use the leaves of our organic fennel in cooked meals like soups, stews, steamed with veges, baked with other veges or in a coconut cream. YUM!
We can use the bulbous part of the vegetable in the same ways: raw or cooked. We just need to check the part of the bulb that stems off. When you look at a fennel bulb you will see what I mean. Dirt, leaves, slugs and some insects can find refuge in the part of the bulb where the leaves attach.
We can also use the seeds. I use the seeds as medicine in a tea.
We might also use the plant as habitat for insects. I’ve found that aphids like fennel flowers and flower stalks and so I’m not surprised when I see the flowers infested with aphid communities. However, because I practice mindful gardening, I notice that these aphid colonies are often accompanied by predatory insects. So I leave the aphids for the lady beetles, the lady beetle larvae and the hover-fly larvae.
What are your thoughts on organic fennel? Do you grow it? Have you found it relatively easy or difficult to cultivate? Was this blog useful to you?