The Mediterranean is where fennel grows originally, and many don’t know it grows well in central Texas as well. In fact, growing fennel in central Texas is one of the easiest since it is a “plant it and forget it” kind of crop. Here is how to grow fennel in central Texas.
When to grow fennel?
Fennel is a cool-season crop, grows all winter long for spring harvest. In central Texas, it has a fairly wide range of planting period. Sow seeds directly or start them indoors around the end of September till the beginning of November.
Growing fennel from seed or transplant?
Fennel is very forgiving, grow it from seed or transplant the result will be the same.
How to start fennel seeds indoors?
Start seeds indoors in early September to plant them out in the ground around October or November.
- Use seed starting cells, peat pods or any other container with drainage holes.
- Fill the containers with premoistened seed starting mix.
- Sprinkle a few seeds on the top of the soil.
- Cover lightly with soil.
- Do not compact it.
- Water deeply.
- Place under grow lights.
- Fresh seeds should take about seven to fourteen days to germinate.
Hardening off the seedlings
Hardening is the process of acclimated indoor seedlings to the outdoors. This takes about seven days from start to finish.
- First day put the seedlings in a shaded to part-shade area for two hours, then bring them in.
- Increase the amount of gradually from two to all day along the week.
- The six day leave them overnight.
- Now you are ready to plant your seedlings without fear from losing them to sun burn or wind.
Direct sowing seeds
If sowing fennel seeds directly in the ground, scatter them in the planting area and sprinkle soil over them gently. Scattering the seeds reduces future thinning work, as the seeds will space themselves naturally.
Protect the seeds
Birds and rodents are notorious diggers. Protect your seeds by covering them with a light-weight row cover or using mesh netting.
What kind of soil fennel needs to grow?
Fennel needs well-draining soil with a lot of organic matter. You can amend native soil with well-finished compost or use raised beds with good garden soil.
How much sun does fennel require to grow?
It depends on the reason you are growing fennel. Some people grow it for the foliage and the flowers. In this case, it will grow in full or part sun. But if you grow it for the bulb, it has to get no less than six hours of sunlight. Otherwise, it won’t get enough energy to form the bulb.
You may find fennel growing as a volunteer plant in some gardens. When it flowers, the seeds get transported by the wind or birds, and they grow wherever they land. With that said, the fennel does not seem to need an awful lot of attention or extra feeding. Provide well-draining soil rich in organic matter, and you will be all set.
How to space fennel plants?
To get a good size bulb, provide fennel with ample space. If you use the scattering method, the seeds will space themselves naturally. If you plant them as seedlings, keep a ten-inch distance in between. The plant will reach four feet at maturity.
On the other hand, according to the square foot garden spacing chart, two fennel plants per square foot should work.
How much water does the fennel need?
Since the fennel grows in the cool season, rainfall may be enough for it. However, central Texas is well-known for its prolonged drought periods; it is best to keep an eye on and maintain a watering schedule. Do not allow the plant to stay dry for too long to prevent stress. The latter may cause it to stop forming the bulb and send flowering shoots instead.
Aphids are the main pest that attacks fennel plants. Fortunately, this happens in the spring when the bulb is ready for harvest.
Another pest that might attack your fennel is the swallowtail butterfly. Fennel and dill are great host plants for it. It lays its eggs then the caterpillars feed on them. You may keep some plants for them.
Once fennel seedlings are established in the ground, they become cold hardy and do not need protection. In case of a long freezing period, use a row cover. The most damage that could occur is a bronzing of the needle-looking leaves. But they do recover quickly.
Fennel needs quite some time to reach proximity, approximately four months. Harvest the bulb when it is round and slightly elongated, around March and April. Use a sharp knife and cut the bulb at the base.
If you keep fennel root intact in the ground after harvest, it may send new shoots the following year and grow new bulbs. However, the bulb will not be as big as the first one.
How to harvest fennel seeds
To harvest fennel seeds, allow the plant to reach the bolting or flowering stage. The bulb layers will stretch thin, and a cluster of tiny yellow flowers will appear. These flowers attract an array of pollinators and flying insects.
Allow the flower to mature, form the seeds, then dry out. Cut the dry flower top and place it upside down in a paper bag. Shake the flower into the bag for the seeds to fall off. If they are completely dry, it should not be hard.
You may clean the seeds by using the winnowing method. Place a small number of seeds in a wide shallow plate, then gently blow over them. The light debris will fly away, leaving the heavy seeds in the tray.
Store the collected seeds in a glass jar or a paper seed packet. Do not forget to label the packet with the name and the year harvested. They should keep for three to four years.
In the kitchen
Fennel has a licorice taste, and some people enjoy it raw as a snack or in a salad. If cooked, the fennel develops a slightly sweeter flavor. The green tops are also useful as a replacement for dill.
Seeds also are used in different ways. South Asian communities cover them with a sugary coating and have them as a treat. In North Africa, they are added to bread dough as a flavor enhancer. And you can also steep them in hot water to make a soothing tea for bloating.
Some of our favorite dishes that include fennel are:
- Fennel potato gratin
- Steamed vegetable salad (potatoes, carrot, fennel)
Have you ever tried to grow fennel? have you ever ate it? please, share your experience, in the comments below.