Fennel is a vegetable that is grown during the coolest months of the year, starting from the end of summer until the end of winter; in small vegetable gardens it is preferred as a winter vegetable, so as not to "steal" space from spring and summer cultivations, of much simpler cultivation. In fact it is certainly not a vegetable suitable for beginners, as it is necessary to follow some tricks to get big and juicy vegetables. The botanical name is foeniculum sativum.
It is an umbrella tree, with long fleshy stems, which at the base of the stem form a roundish heart, formed by the base of the stems; the heart grows immediately after the roots, above ground, for about 20-30 cm; therefore the stems become cylindrical and tend to branch out briefly, bringing the thin linear leaves. There are also species of fennel that do not produce large buds, which are grown to use the vegetation and seeds, as aromas.
Fennel is eaten fresh or cooked, and is harvested before the plant begins to produce the large yellow inflorescences; once the grumoli are ready, they begin to collect them when they are needed in the kitchen; but it is also possible to uproot all the plants and keep them in a cold place, also wanting in the garden but sheltered from the weather, to use a few at a time. In this case a small tunnel is prepared in which the whole extirpated plants are placed, including leaves and roots.
The foeniculum sativum are cultivated by sowing them directly at home, in late summer, for winter harvesting, or at the beginning of summer, for autumn harvesting; they are sown directly in the garden, in rows about 35-45 cm apart, and when the plants have reached 5-8 cm they thin out, leaving between each seedling about 20-25 cm of space, to ensure their correct development. In a small vegetable garden it is advisable to plant the small fennel plants: they are then sown in a seedbed, to be kept moist until the seedlings are completely germinated; the small plants are planted in rows 40-45 cm apart, spacing them about 20-25 cm, placing them at home when they have reached a height of about 12-15 cm.
Before placing seeds or seedlings it is important to work the soil, to make it soft, and to enrich it with granular vegetable fertilizer, possibly rich in phosphorus and potassium, not excessively rich in nitrogen; life in the field of fennel is quite short, so it is not necessary to fertilize with manure, which would take an excessive period of time to release the nutrients in the soil; mineral fertilizers are preferred, whose effect is almost immediately in the soil; fennels tend to concentrate nitrogenous compounds, not particularly healthy, so it is advisable to suspend the fertilizations a month or so before harvest.
The foeniculum sativum strongly fear the water stagnation, which can lead to the main fennel disease, the sclerotinia; it is a feltre mold, which can completely ruin the crop if action is not taken promptly, removing the plants affected by this mold.
If in our garden there is a very compact and heavy soil it is advisable to place the plants in a raised plot of 20-25 cm, providing an inclined space on the sides, suitable for the rapid flow of water.
Once the plot is prepared it is necessary to intervene weekly to remove the weeds, which can absorb the mineral salts present in the soil, with consequent poor development of the vegetables.
The winter cultivation of fennel simplifies the task of watering, as these will be provided only during the initial development period of the plants, in late summer and autumn; while during the winter months our vegetables should receive the right watering from precipitation. We will intervene with watering only in case of particularly mild and dry weather, which will cause a dry soil for a prolonged period of time.
To obtain more juicy and sweet fruit we can think of practicing the topping up of the same; if you decide to carry out the topping up you can intervene in two different ways:
- as soon as the heart begins to develop, it intervenes 3-4 times bringing the soil close to the heart itself, covering it.
- when the heart is already well formed and enlarged, the ground approaches the external stems.
This practice, also known as bleaching, promotes the development of a good taste of the heart and the storage of water.
Fennel - foeniculum sativum: Harvest
Fennel is harvested when the hearts are well developed; the plants are removed from the soil and the roots, the more external stems and the vegetation are removed up to 4-5 cm above the heart.
Especially in the case where the topping is practiced, it is advisable to wash the vegetables well before consuming them.