Grow Your Own Fennel – it gets better all summer!

Posted: July 19, 2016

We tend to grow Florence fennel for its yummy bulbous stem. Pale green and delicately flavored like licorice, this stem is a culinary gem.

But did you know that if left to flower and set seed, this same fennel yields a lot of aromatic seeds that can be “put by” for winter use in baking, stews and soups, sausages, and even savory syrups? In the process of setting seed, the glorious flower heads draw in all kinds of small bees, wasps, and other pollinators to their bright yellow florets.

You can stand right next to a fennel plant in full flower and not be bothered in the least by these creatures, which will be whizzing back and forth, up and down. They are crazed to get at the flowers, and nothing else. Bronze fennel, by the way, is also outstanding in the landscape and as a seed source.

Fennel Florence in Flower a great summer herb

Saving Fennel Seeds

Some weeks later the seed heads will form. The only trick to harvesting fennel seed is not to let the seed heads get too dry and burst. If that happens the seed will be all over the garden and, yes, you may be pulling out a lot of extra plants next year so it doesn’t take over.

Rather, when the seed heads have lost their petals and are starting to turn from green to brown, cut the stems and put them upside down inside a big paper bag. Just let them dry completely in a shady, sheltered place, and then run the seeds through a sieve to clean. Store in small jars.

I substitute this homegrown fennel seed for caraway in many recipes.

Written by Sow True Garden Ambassador, Nan Chase

Our Garden Ambassador Program is a network of talented gardeners, writers and photographers. The Garden Ambassadors are here to help you learn and grow from real garden experiences. You can read more blog posts from Nan Chase HERE.

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Nan Chase

NC Garden Ambassador at Sow True Seed
Writer Nan K. Chase has written about topics as diverse as the history of Islam and the history of the mini-skirt, about beauty pageants and about nuclear energy. An award-winning investigative journalist, she has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Air & Space, Southern Living, and many other publications. A long-time gardener, Nan lives in the mountains of western North Carolina.

2 responses to “Grow Your Own Fennel – it gets better all summer!”

  1. Nancy Paris says:

    I have tried to grow fennel from seed. Had problem with germination so had only 2 plants. These did not grow well. What do I need to add to soil? Started raised beds 4 years ago and filled with organic garden soil from Home Depot. Added organic fertilizer, tree leaves in fall, and some dried manure also from Home Depot. Other vegetables have done well.

    • Chris Smith says:

      Hi Nancy, sorry for the slow reply. Here is a growing guide that may help you:

      Bed Preparation

      Fennel is a perennial that prefers rich, moist but well-drained soil. Choose a site with full sun. Drought tolerant once established.

      Planting

      Direct sow fennel seed outdoors in spring or fall. Optimal germination occurs when soil temps are 60-85 F. Seed can also be started indoors in spring 4 weeks before the last frost. Disturbing the roots can cause bolting, so choose containers that are large enough to avoid root bound plants.

      Soaking seed for 4 days prior to planting aids in germination. Sow seeds 1/2″ deep and 3-4″ apart. Seeds will sprout in 5-17 days. Transplant seedlings outdoors once danger of frost has passed. Thin seedlings so that mature plants are 12″ apart.

      Harvest

      Harvest in late summer through fall by cutting through the tap root at the soil line.

      Seed Saving

      Fennel is a short-lived perennial that self-sows readily. Seeds mature in fall. Collect seeds when flowers have dried and turned brown. Store seeds in a cool dry place. Seeds will remain viable for 3-4 years.

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