What I'm planting this spring: Florence fennel

20:32, Oct 15 2012
Florence Fennel
FLORENCE FENNEL: This aromatic vege grows particularly well in Spring.

I'm a little embarassed to admit, I've only eaten Florence fennel once, and that was at the weekend. I've sown a few seeds of it in the garden, but never eaten it. There were a few bulbs in the reduced-to-clear bin at the supermarket, and having seen Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall make soups and salads with it in his last series Veg Everyday, I thought it was worth having a go.

It has a lovely aniseed flavour that's bright and fresh, and in the salad I ate it in, it gave it such a lift that I don't think any salad will be as good without it. I looked into my bowl of Florence fennel, carrots, spinach, radish, red onion and rocket, and thought about how everything is growing in my garden right now. It made me happy.

Florence fennel, also known as finocchio, is different from the herb fennel, which is grown for its feathery foliage and seeds. You can see that kind growing by any roadside sending up huge stalks with ferny arms and upside down umbrella-y seedheads. Florence fennel is grown for its fat bulb, which forms at the plant's base. It can be used in salads, braised or in a gratin, and I'm a convert.

From what I've read about growing Florence fennel, it can be fairly picky about temperature - bolting, or going to seed when the temperature changes too rapidly, and it dislikes the heat of midsummer. It also doesn't like having its feet tickled, so sow it directly into the bed where you want it to grow rather than in pots to be transplanted. It likes the usual conditions - full sun, good drainage, rich soil. It can take three months to mature, so get it in now for summer. It'll also be too hot for it if you sow it unless you do it this week, but you can plonk some punnets in, or wait for late summer and autumn to sow and eat in the autumn and winter. 

I have a few spots free right now, so I'm going to sow some more after enriching the soil with compost, blood and bone and maybe some Dynamic Lifter. 

To find out more about Florence fennel, check out this article - complete with delicious recipes. 

Have you grown Florence fennel before? How did it go? And how did you use it in your cooking?

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Photo from here