Florence Fennel – by horticulturalist Peter Whyte

You could sow many crops now to produce vegetables for the autumn and winter. One worth trying that you might not think of is Florence fennel.  Its aniseed-flavoured bulbs can be braised or eaten raw and the young stems and leaves can be chopped for soups and salads.  The seeds can also be used either fresh or dried for flavouring.

The key to growing Florence fennel is to keep it growing fast and steadily without any checks from drought, cold or transplanting. Its natural habitat is Mediterranean marshes, so it is not used to checks to growth.  Sow the seed in modules or peat pots and snip out the surplus seedlings to leave one in each.  Protect the young plants from slugs.  Keep them well watered with water warmed by letting it stand in the greenhouse for at least half a day.  Plant them as soon as possible into warm, moist but well-drained, fertile soil with plenty of organic matter.  Space them about 35 centimetres apart.  Keep the plants well-watered, weeded and ventilated, and feed them little and often.  You can earth up the developing bulbs to blanch them if you prefer.  If you don’t need the space for following crops, don’t dig up the plants when harvesting.  Cut through the base 3 centimetres above ground level and leave the stump to produce tasty sprouts for salads later.