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Barbara Pleasant: A Cure for the Bulb Fennel Blues

bulb fenne florence fennelwern

It's a little nutty, but I know I am not the only one who grows things because I want to try a recipe in its most perfect form.

Bulb fennel is transplantable up to a surprisingly large size. A local organic farm keeps their plants in 2-inch pots until they are 6 inches tall, and then finishes them off in the field. The same approach works great in the garden.

fennel regrows from stump
Fennel resprouts from the stump! Cut the main bulb high, and then harvest baby sprouts a few weeks later.

Every food gardener can name a vegetable or two that simply refuses to grow for them. But you don't give up. Instead, you keep on trying to grow it, all because of a recipe.


So goes my story with learning to grow bulb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), also known as finocchio. The recipe in question was a simple guyere gratin, and I'm proud to say that ultimately, it was wonderful. Even better than fresh fennel braised in butter, if you can imagine that.


It took me three seasons to learn how to grow fennel, and but in the end it turns out I simply had bad information. Regardless of what the seed packet says, you cannot grow bulb fennel in 55, 70 or even 80 days. It takes at least that long to get a really nice bulb.




Too Many Names for Fennel

Bulb fennel and anise fennel and sweet anise are the same thing, at least as far as many produce managers are concerned. In markets, bulbs of fennel may be labeled finocchio, sweet anise, or anise fennel.

When you get used to growing fennel in your garden, you tend to drop the bulb, and just call it fennel. The other plant is herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare).

bulb fennel garden

Bulb fennel is a variation of more

primitive herb fennel (Foeniculum

vulgare), a short-lived hardy perennial

that is grown for its feathery foliage

and tasty seeds.

But watch out, because this species

can reseed too well and become weedy.

Enjoy the yellow umbels in flower

arrangements, or cut them off and

put them in the compost.

growing bulb fennel

Advice on Varieties

I have had excellent luck with ‘Trieste’

from Renee's Garden. Last year I grew ‘

Victorio’ from Territorial Seeds for a fall

crop, with outstanding results.


Bulb fennel seeds germinate best at

warm room temperatures (68-80

degrees F), so I start the seeds indoors

 and set them out when they are big

enough to handle.

bulb fennel foliage

New uses for an ancient veggie

Selected for its thickened juicy stems, bulb fennel was a common food in Italy by the

Middle Ages. Charlemagne reportedly liked it, which helped its popularity in France.

Here in the US, bulb fennel is sadly underappreciated, in the garden and at the table.

Raw bulb fennel pairs wonderfully with oranges or pistachios in salads, or you can

accent with olives when using fennel in risottos or other grain dishes. But roasted fennel

with parmesan cheese remains the best way to surrender to this delicious vegetable.