So you want to learn how to grow and harvest fennel? It’s not difficult at all if you know a little more about the plant. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a semi-hardy perennial, often grown as an annual, that can grow up to 4′ tall. Although it is native to the Mediteranian region, it’s widely naturalized.
Plant seeds directly in humus rich soil that drains well, in drills that are 6″ apart. They should be in full sun. Keep seed beds moist for about 2 weeks, or until the first leaves appear, after that be careful not to water too much. Make succession plantings through mid August for a continuous crop.
Be certain to not plant Fennel near bush beans, caraway, tomatoes and kohlrabi because it can cause damage to those plants and stunt their growth. Coriander prevents seed from forming on fennel and wormwood prevents fennel seed from germinating, so keep them apart. None of these plants make good companion for fennel.
All parts of the fennel plant can be eaten. The leaves can begin being harvested as soon as the plant is well established. The stems are mature at around 80 days, but they can be eaten as soon as they start to get plump. To get fatter stems, pinch of the emerging seed heads and let the plant grow for several more days. Many say the stems taste their best just before the plant blooms.
If you’re interested in harvesting the seeds, you’ll need to keep a close watch so you can see when the seeds turn from a green-yellow to brown. If you don’t catch them at this time, they quickly fall to the ground at the slightest movement. Cut the entire seed head with scissors and let it fall into a paper bag. Let them continue to dry out in the bag by leaving it in a warm, dry, dark place. When the seeds are completely dry, they can be moved to a storage container.
Use fresh leaves in salads. Heat quickly destroys the flavor of the leaves so add then to a cooked dish at the last possible moment. Eat the fresh stems like celery. The seeds wonderful for deserts, breads, cakes, cookies, and beverages.