Fennel is one of the less known herbs that people grow. It has to be separated from dill because they are related and will cross pollinate, resulting in an inedible (nasty tasting) mutt of a plant. Fennel grows well in containers and can be kept away from dill and other plants by growing it in a pot some distance from the garden.
Both the stalk and seeds of fennel are used. The stalk is eaten like celery and the seeds are used to flavor foods. While fennel has a flavor similar to licorice, it is really related to the caraway family. Fennel makes a good nursery plant for some caterpillars.
Fennel is grown from seed. Sow in full sun after all chance of frost is past. Seeds should be placed in a shallow trough 12 inches apart. Cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Space rows three feet apart.
Fennel can grow up to 3-4 feet tall and may need staking to keep it upright. Seeds are ready 100 days after planting. Be sure to harvest them before the seed pods start opening, as the seed is shot some distance when that happens. Wrapping the seed pods in cheese cloth before harvesting helps keep the seeds from disappearing.
The stalk is eaten like celery and is stored in the refrigerator in a similar fashion. The seeds are air dried for a few days, then stored in an airtight container like any herb. It is necessary to thrash the seed pods to get the seeds out if you have harvested them before the pods hurl the seeds across your garden. Just slap the ends of the fennel against a counter or other hard surface a couple of times to open the seed pods. Be prepared for the seeds to come out forcefully — keep that cheesecloth wrapped around them or you will have seeds every where.
Fennel is one of the lesser known herbs and the licorice flavor isn’t for every one. It is a pretty plant, however, and caterpillars like it. That might be reason enough to find room for it in your garden.
For more help gardening, buy my book, “Preparing a Vegetable Garden From the Ground Up.” Available in print or eBook, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!