Guide to Fennel

With the flavor of sweet anise, fennel is divine raw or cooked.

SEASON: Peak season is fall and winter. However, home gardeners can also slip in a quick planting in spring for an early summer harvest.

CHOOSING: Look for compact bulbs that are relatively heavy and firm. Avoid those that are splitting or browning, or have other injuries.

STORING: Remove the foliage by snipping an inch or two above the bulb. Place fennel in a produce bag to prevent moisture loss, and store it in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for three or four days.

GROWING: Often mistaken for celery or dill, fennel is a true original. All parts of the plant (the bulb, stalk, and feathery fronds) are edible. Fennel enjoys cool weather—not hot, but not freezing. Although it’s easy to germinate from seeds sown directly into the garden after the soil has warmed, transplants are helpful to get a head start in spring or in raising a fall crop that must be started in the heat of summer. It takes about three months for fennel to produce the bulb, so do the math to determine when you need to start and if you have enough time before the weather turns hot or starts freezing.

Improved varieties have been introduced in recent years. Try Zefa Fino or Trieste. They resist the urge to flower, channeling their energy into the bulb instead.

Plant fennel seeds or transplants in a sunny, well-drained bed that has been amended with compost. Thin seedlings to stand about 12 inches apart. Keep the bed moist, and be sure to feed your fennel every two to three weeks with a liquid fertilizer.

After the bulb grows to about 2 inches in length, cover it with soil or mulch, which will make it tender. Snip off any flower stalks that may form to prevent the bulb from splitting. When it’s time to harvest, use clippers to snip under the bulb and cut the taproot.

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