Beautiful Bulbs: Growing and Cooking Fennel and Scallions

Learn to grow and cook with fennel and scallions, discover some tips on how to prepare fennel bulb, and try a few recipes that incorporate these flavorful crops.

| June/July 2015

Two bulbs, two different flavors: Fennel and scallions come into their own in early summer. Perhaps it’s time you welcomed both, along with their distinctive flavors, into your own garden and kitchen.

Fennel, once considered a gourmet vegetable and used only in certain Mediterranean dishes, has earned a place in contemporary cookery. You can now find fennel bulbs in markets and spot them in home gardens. Fennel’s distinctive flavor is a bit like that of anise, licorice and tarragon, and it comes from compounds they all share.

Types of Fennel

Botanically, fennel is kin to celery, dill, carrots, and other members of the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) family — plants that bear umbrella-shaped flower clusters. In fact, one form of fennel, grown as an herb for its leaves, flowers and seeds, is much like dill, with fern-like fronds. Sometimes called “wild fennel,” it’s tall and grows like a weed in areas — notably California — that have Mediterranean climates. Its flowers are a terrific nectar source for beneficial insects.

The other kind of fennel — which also has ferny tops, only shorter — is known as Florence fennel, bulb fennel, cultivated fennel or sweet fennel. It has a white, swollen area near the ground, made up of widened stem bases wrapped tightly around each other in overlapping layers.

Grow and Harvest Fennel

Fennel is often characterized as a fall vegetable, but a hard frost will take it down much earlier than hardier fall crops, such as carrots and kale. At our Maine farm, we’re not content with such a short season, so we treat ourselves to an early summer one as well. You can do the same by setting out transplants as soon as there is no longer danger of frost. Start seeds indoors two to four weeks before your average last frost date.

If planted in spring, sometimes an unexpected cold snap will make fennel bolt (go to seed) before it’s had a chance to form bulbs. This happens because biennial fennel interprets the cold snap as its first winter and the subsequent onset of summer weather as its second spring. The best way to avoid this is to plant a bolt-resistant variety, such as ‘Zefa Fino’ or ‘Montovano.’ (Find sources for both varieties at our Seed and Plant Finder. — MOTHER) Fertile soil and regular watering will also encourage a good crop.

5/25/2015 1:49:43 PM

at this moment I'm growing basil, coriander, mint, chilies and cayenne peppers on my balcony. I learned a lot of useful tips about small spaces gardening from a book I reviewed on

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