A perennial plant, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is grown for culinary and decorative purposes. Its towering size, fluffy, branching, fragrant, yellow-green leaves, and other features make it a desirable plant for cottage gardens and border plantings. Many gardeners have questions about how to harvest fennel after planting it.
Since swallowtail caterpillars love it as a food source and a place to pupate, it is also a fantastic choice for butterfly gardens. Fennel grows quickly and is often planted in the spring. Small yellow blooms appear on the plant in the summer, followed by flavorful seeds to collect with the foliage. It tastes something like licorice or anise.
Planting, growing, and harvesting fennel is straightforward. It’s essential to learn when to harvest fennel to avoid harming your plant while collecting leaves or digging up your bulb too early or late, resulting in poor texture. Explore the plant care and harvesting process and experience beautiful butterflies or delicious bulbs and greens, thanks to your fennel.
Everything to Know about Harvesting Fennel
Discover how to harvest fennel and when to harvest fennel to get the most from your home garden. Harvesting fennel is easy and requires basic tools such as scissors and a small trowel. Start your harvest at the appropriate time to ensure your plant remains healthy, and collect your bulb when it’s at peak flavor and texture.
Types of Fennel Plant for Your Garden
There are two kinds of fennel to consider when adding to your garden – choose depending on your plans for harvest.
Florence fennel, sometimes called finocchio fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum, is cultivated for its bulbous stem and used as a vegetable for eating. Common fennel, or herb fennel, doesn’t produce a significant bulb; instead, its foliage is harvested.
When selecting fennel seeds for growing fennel, decide if you’d like to grow herb fennel and produce aromatic licorice tasting sweet fennel, such as bronze fennel, or a hardy vegetable bulb from a Florence fennel such as Solaris fennel.
Although many people assume that they are the same, fennel and anise are different plants and flavors. Anise is a flower that produces a seed with a similar licorice flavor.
Caring for Your Fennel Plants
Whether growing sweet fennel or hearty bulbs, optimum plant care ensures the optimum harvest. Plant fennel after the last frost in early spring or late summer for an early fall harvest. Both Florence and herb fennel are cool-weather crops prone to bolting or forming seed heads and flower heads if temperatures rise unexpectedly.
Fennel plants do best in full sun and a slightly acidic soil pH. Regular watering and a layer of mulch help keep its taproot damp and prevent wilting. Look out for pests such as aphids, yet consider leaving parsley worm caterpillars and their larvae, as it becomes a black swallowtail butterfly, a beneficial pollinator.
Fennel is a self-pollinator, and beneficial insects help spread fennel pollen. Consider using an organic or pollinator-safe pesticide for your pest control.
When to Harvest Fennel from Your Home Garden
When are fennel ready to harvest? The answer is in two parts based on whether you’re collecting leaves or digging up bulbs. Judging when to pick fennel may seem challenging since fennel takes a long time to grow. But knowing how long does it take for fennel to grow gives a good starting point. Most fennel bulbs take 12-14 weeks from planting to harvest.
Measure your bulb as it increases in size. Harvest your fennel bulbs when they are at least two inches and no greater than three inches across, approximately the size of a tennis ball. If you wait longer and your bulbs grow larger before harvest, they may be tough to eat and have an unappealing stringy texture.
As soon as your plant is well established with at least three main stems, it’s safe to pick a small number of fennel leaves without harming your growing plant.
Fennel will usually be ready in late summer or fall. It will be peak harvesting season if you are growing multiple plants. You will be able to harvest hot peppers in the same season as the fennel leaves and bulbs.
How to Harvest Fennel Bulbs
Knowing the proper technique makes fennel harvest time run smoothly. Cut off the plant’s stalks and leaves using a clean set of garden shears, sharp scissors, or a knife, leaving a few millimeters at the top of the bulb.
Remove the dirt with caution from the bulb’s base. Don’t throw away the leaves. Instead, use them as a side dish or salad element for another meal. You can use your hands if the earth is loose.
Use a tiny garden trowel if necessary, being careful not to nick the bulb. Start shallow and dig deeper, working slowly until you reveal the entire bulb. Holding the bulb, cut it from the roots with a sharp knife and remove it from the ground.
Harvesting Fennel Leaves for Salads and More
Fennel leaves are ready for harvest once your plant is well established and has plenty of other fronds to spare. Use a clean pair of scissors or sharp garden shears and snip off only as many fennel leaves as you need.
Don’t take more than a few leaves at a time to ensure you don’t damage your plant. If you notice your plant declining, refrain from cutting leaves until it returns to better health.
Storing Fennel Bulbs and Leaves
Store a fresh fennel bulb in a brown paper bag on your kitchen counter or in another dry place for up to three days. To preserve the bulb longer, cover it with a damp paper towel or cloth and refrigerate it to slow decomposition.
Fennel bulbs freeze well but must be blanched in boiling water for about a minute before being allowed to cool and sealed in a plastic freezer bag before placing in the freezer. Frozen fennel bulbs stay fresh for up to eight months.
Fennel leaves keep best when placed in an airtight jar or airtight container and covered with water before sealing and refrigerating. The water keeps the stems crisp, and the fennel should last three or more days.
Growing fennel is fun and rewarding, whether you want to entice beautiful black swallowtail butterflies to pollinate and populate your garden or enjoy eating their leaves and bulbs. With soft licorice and anise flavors, delicate fennel fronds make an ideal garnish for many cuisines, including Mediterranean dishes.
Educating yourself on the proper timing and technique to harvest your fennel leaves and bulbs ensures you produce the highest quality product from your home garden, and storing it correctly makes it last longer.
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