• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing fennel in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, July 18, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING FENNEL

I have to admit that up until about two years ago I didn’t even know what fennel was.  Florence Welsh recommended that I grow it because it does so well here in Sitka and is truly delicious. I am so glad I gave it a try.

Fennel has a round, slightly oval-shaped bulb that grows above the ground and looks sort of like a fat, short celery, while the tops look a lot like dill. If you eat fennel raw it tastes strongly of anise (licorice), but when cooked the flavor changes to this amazing mellow flavor I can’t even describe.

In preparation for growing fennel I like to amend the bed with seaweed in the fall and again in the spring. If the spring seaweed has a sprinkling of herring roe on it, it’s fine because fennel is a fairly heavy feeder. I start my seeds indoors mid-March and transplant them outside mid-April.

When transplanting the floppy, fragile starts, be sure to make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole in the center of the depression. Bury the starts deep enough in the hole to ensure that they are firmly supported with dirt and plant them with about 10-12 inch spacing. After they recover from transplant shock and begin to grow they will straighten out and become more stout.

It is a really good idea to mulch around each start with seaweed to keep the weeds down, feed the starts and retain moisture.  Cover the starts with row cover and for best results use hoop supports that will hold the cover up 2-3 feet off the ground.  Fennel has beautiful bushy foliage that can get quite tall and if the cover is too low it will break the foliage and make the plants very unattractive.

Fennel is ready to eat anytime you want to, but it is best to wait until it has reached maturity for maximum size. You’ve probably noticed the fennel in the grocery store produce aisle … the large, round, plump bulbs are white and the stems of the foliage are stout. My fennel never looks like that. The bulbs are smaller, more flat — almost disc-shaped — and greener in color.  The foliage and stems are more dainty and tender.

Sometimes a few plants will “bolt” and just send up a series of branches getting really tall. They are edible, but don’t amount to much. Adequate spacing usually minimizes bolting.

Because fennel matures so early you can successfully raise two plantings. You probably can plan to be able to start your first harvest mid to late July. If you take a sharp knife and cut the bulb loose leaving the root in the ground it is possible that the root will sprout up baby fennel for a second harvest.

But it is a more sure thing to start some more fennel seeds indoors around June 1, pull mature plants out of the ground root and all, amend the empty spot with compost and transplant new starts in the same spot. If you don’t have room indoors for starting more seeds just pop a new seed into the empty spots as you harvest mature plants.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

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