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Herb growing for beginners: fennel

25th March 2019

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If you enjoy cooking up a range of fish dishes then fennel would make the perfect addition to your garden or allotment. With its aniseed flavour, the leaves of this perennial plant will add a wonderful element to your cooking, and this crop will continue to be productive for many seasons. The herb species of this edible should not be confused with Florence fennel, which also produces bulbs that can be eaten as a vegetable.

One of the most important things to remember when growing fennel is that this plant suffers when the roots have been disturbed. To ensure the greatest chance of success be sure to sow the seeds where are they are crop – either in a pot or in the ground on your plot.

The crop is fairly drought-tolerant and is suitable for outside cultivation, but be sure to choose a sunny position in well-drained soil. Sow three to four seeds at a time between March and July every 20cm in rows 45cm apart, or drop one every few centimetres to thin out later on. For an earlier start, or where space is temporarily occupied, use pots or plugs of seed compost and cover the sowings with perlite. Pop these into a propagator with a temperature of around 20°C, or simply start them off under cover on a warm, indoor windowsill. Once the young plants look crowded thin to leave one seedling per pot or plug.

Water the soil regularly and remember to keep weeds at bay by hoeing in between plants. Trim plants regularly to contain their invasive habits. Slugs and snails are likely to target the leaves of this crop, and nematodes are an incredibly effective way of controlling these pests. Simply dissolve the solution in water and irrigate the surrounding soil during the most suitable months to benefit from this method.

Aphids may also feed on the foliage for its sap. These tiny insects are unlikely to cause serious damage but they can hinder development for young edibles. Wrapping sticky tape around your hand so that the adhesive side faces outwards is a great ‘do it yourself’ way of limiting the growth of infestations. Gently dab the tape against the leaves to pick up clusters of these pesky bugs and dispose of them accordingly.

The leaves can be taken from May to September once they reach maturity. Pick them by hand, being careful not to damage the stem of the rest of the plant to encourage further yield production. During the summer months fennel crops will bloom with yellow flowers and seed can be collected during this time. These can be used whole or crushed in many different dishes.

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