I began my first vegetable garden in 2001. Everything grew like topsy and I had a bumper harvest. It was definitely Beginner’s Luck – especially when it came to Florence Fennel.T
hey were beautiful fleshy orbs of aniseed loveliness. I was giving them away I had so many. Then for the next fifteen years I planted the seeds and each year they bolted.
Florence Fennel are prima donnas. They don’t like it too hot, too cold, too dry or too wet. They are the Goldilocks of the vegetable garden. I did try to pander to their needs but there was always something that went wrong. Many varieties claim to be “bolt resistant” but in my experience they are not. This year though I got it right with a variety called Chiarino.
The secret of my Florence Fennel is sow the seeds in midsummer – at the end of June. They are biennial plants so they aim to put on lots of vegetative growth in the first year to provide the energy they need to produce flowers in the second year. This vegetative growth is the swollen, fleshy leaves at the base of the plant that are so tasty. By sowing them relatively late the plant will sense that the days are getting shorter and will resist the urge to produce flowers, that is, unless other environmental factors like drought force them to run to seed.
The other trick is to sow them in modules. Only allow one plant to develop and when you plant them out in July try not to disturb the roots as this will also prompt them to run to seed.
This year I did remember to keep them well watered and weed free. I also made sure the slugs didn’t get them and I was rewarded with three rows of fabulous vegetables.
They are delicious braised with butter and a splash of Vermouth.