I sowed fennel seeds way back when I first arrived in Tasmania, 11 years ago. Those same fennel roots are still producing fennel bulbs 11 years later. Here's how I do it....
- Sow fennel seeds in spring or summer or early autumn. Let them grow, without harvesting, for the first year. Some will form the bulbs, some may not but, eventually, all will shoot up and start flowering. You can eat some of the flowers and let the rest form seeds.
- When the seeds are green and plump you can pick them and let them dry inside the house. These are perfect to use as fennel seeds in cooking.
- Let some of the seed heads dry on the plants. You can let them drop and sprout where they are or collect them and sow later, to increase your future bulb crops.
- Do NOT dig up the plants. Just cut them down to the ground.
- In autumn the old roots will send up new shoots. Now you start work, cutting off all the shoots except those that have 1 longer leaf on each side and a smaller, fluffy one in the middle.
Good growth. Central leaf is smaller than the outside leaves.
- If the middle leaf grows taller than the outside leaves, it will not form a bulb and will shoot straight to flowering. Cut it off at soil level. Do not pull it out because the root will send up another plant.
- This year, let the bulbs form and harvest only a few by cutting just below the bulb. Let the rest complete their life cycle. Harvesting in Cygnet is usually mostly done in October.
Lovely plump bulb ready to slice off at ground level.
At harvest, I cut off the thick, side fronds and just keep the central, soft one attached, to use in salads etc. Fennel bulb varieties differ in their bulb shapes.
- Every year follow this same routine, beginning in autumn with cutting off all of the plants that do not have a shorter leaf in the middle. Eventually the roots will start sending up the right ones, so don't get worried about cutting off every single bad seedling, early in the season.