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Fennel has a rich history in ancient Greece, where it was called “marathon.” The Battle of Marathon in 490 BC and the Italian town of the same name both received their names from this plant, which the Grecians regarded as a symbol of victory. Its medicinal properties, which are many, include an ability to suppress the appetite. In 13th century England, people ate fennel seeds during fast days or long sermons to partially satisfy their hunger; this led to the nickname “meeting seeds.” A tea made of fennel became a well known treatment for infant colic or digestive disturbances. The seed of the fennel plant is most commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisine, while the bulb-like portion of the plant is popular in Italian and German cuisine. While culinary use is perfectly safe, large doses of fennel should be avoided by expectant mothers.
Sowing: Start seeds indoors about a month before the last frost, planting them in peat pots 1/4″ deep; keep the temperature around 65-75 degrees F for best germination. Fennel can also be direct sown as soon as the soil temperature reaches 65 degrees F. Space the seedlings or seeds about 12″ apart in fertile, well drained soil and full sun. Transplant the seedlings carefully, since shock may cause them to bolt. Fennel must be planted away from other garden plants, since it tends to have a negative effect on their growth.
Growing: Keep the plants consistently moist. A layer of mulch will help conserve moisture, while controlling weeds and blanching the tender fennel bulb.
Harvesting: The leaves and stalks can be harvested whenever they reach a desirable size. Harvest lightly at first to prevent stunting the growth of the bulb. The bulb has the best flavor and tenderness at a diameter of 4″. When it reaches this size, harvest the entire plant. For best freshness and flavor, fennel should be used within 2 days after harvesting. To collect the seed, gather the seed heads individually when the seed begins to ripen to a light brown. Spread them out to dry, then rub them gently to separate the seed from the stalks; store the seed in an airtight container.
Seed Saving: Allow the flowering heads to mature and develop seeds. Remove them individually when they begin to ripen to a light brown, watching them carefully since they easily drop their seed. Spread out the heads to dry out of direct sunlight, then rub them gently to separate the seed from the stalks. Store the seed in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Common Names: Finocchio
Latin Name: Foeniculum vulgare
Species Origin: Mediterranean
Type: Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Warm Season
Life Cycle: Annual, Biennial, Tender Perennial
USDA Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Seeds per Ounce: 10,000
Planting Method: Direct Sow
Sunlight: Full Sun
Height: 48 Inches
Color: Yellow, Green
Bloom Season: Blooms Early Summer, Blooms Late Summer
Uses: Attracts Butterflies, Aromatic, Deer Resistant
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