Sunday, 11 December 2011

Fennel (11 DEC 2011)

The last post on moon gardens received more than 100 hits in one week which is unusually high for this blog. It wasn't due to people googling for information on "white-flowering plants"; searches submitted were more along the lines of "pictures of the moon on 3rd Dec". There seem to be a lot of people out there with a moon fascination, including some gardeners. I realised this when I was trying to find a photo of a moon garden design, I kept stumbling onto websites about moon gardening which I discovered is a totally different subject, referring to the ancient technique of sowing seeds and harvesting crops at optimum dates defined by a lunar calendar. The dates vary geographically and depend on the type of crop : leaves, roots, seeds inside, seeds outside & flowers; the principle is that the moon affects moisture in the ground just as it affects tides.

As a scientist, I don't believe in things which haven't been proven. As a gardener, my mind is open to other possibilities, especially if there is the slightest suggestion that my plants might grow better. I'm thinking of my florence fennel plants in particular ...

I love florence fennel, it tastes too good to be a vegetable but unfortunately the produce in the supermarket always looks rather aged and is quite expensive considering. I've only ever seen the slim bulbs on sale; I've read that rounded bulbs have a superior flavour. Some people call them male and female respectively, others vice versa.  The truth is that the flowers of fennel are hermaphrodite. All florence fennel bulbs start life with a slim, flattish shape, as they mature they round up, then as they progress further to flowering they revert back to a flattish shape.

The plan was to grow florence fennel myself so that I could keep an eye on them and harvest when the bulbs were at their desirable rounded stage. There were a few seedlings left after the slug attack :

Fennel plants #1&2   indoor-sown at the end of March

Fennel is in the same family as carrots, celery, dill, anise, cumin & caraway, which explains why it looks like celery but has a sweet aniseed flavour. Wild fennel doesn't develop a swollen bulb; its seeds are bitter. Florence fennel was bred to develop a bulb which could be eaten as a vegetable and Sweet fennel was bred for sweet seeds which could be used as a spice.

Florence fennel is supposed to take 80 days to grow from seed to vegetable :

plant #1 - grown in fresh peat-free compost
... with no swelling at the end of November

plant #2 - grown in stale compost in my lucky pot
... with a little swelling at the end of November

According to articles I've read, potential causes for my florence fennel bulbs not developing are:
(1) I sowed the seeds too early, while the weather was still cold.
(2) I transplanted the plants at least twice.
(3) I didn't water them enough
(4) I didn't allow enough room for the long tap roots (plant #1)
(5) I didn't fertilise the soil enough (plant #2)

Any of these or other factors could have stressed the plants into bolting (flowering prematurely) which diverts the plant's energy away from the bulb, concentrating on seed production. From the plants' perspective, their purpose in life is to reproduce, not to make vegetables.

fennel plants #1&2 re-potted - just in case

Do you see why I am seeking extra-terrestial assistance ?

Next year I'll sow florence fennel seeds directly in the garden soil in their final locations, in April & June, on dates aligned with and opposed to the lunar calendar, watering some more than others. A 3 factor x 2 level experiment with 3 repetitions which will require 24 plants.

Surely at least one of them will present me with the elusive round fennel bulb.


Photos of "male" and "female" fennel bulbs ... and a recipe for a salad made with raw fennel :

I like to slice fennel thickly, blanch, then saute in olive oil with a dash of pernod ... or combine these ingredients in a delicious fish soup :

For plump bulbs to eat as vegetables, sow florence fennel in June when the weather is warm :

For fennel "seeds" (they're actually fruits), sow sweet or bitter (wild) fennel  in early April :

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Anonymous said...

Great deductions why the fennel grew as such. Room for roots is a sure bet. The Farmer's Almanac has a lot to say about growing with moon cycles and they seem to get weather predictions right more times than not. Not sure about their science though.

b-a-g said...

Thanks Donna - The more time I spend in the garden, the more I accept that there isn't a scientific explanation for everything. The least I can do is carry out an experiment.

Helen/patientgardener said...

I grew florence fennel this year. I transplanted them once and had small bulbs. I think I planted them too close together and harvested them far too early. It was also very dry.

linniew said...

There are more things in heaven and earth, b-a-g....I bet 3 chocolate chip cookies on the watered moon plants.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens said...

I know nothing about fennel, but my onions always flower instead of swelling into an edible onion. Alistair characterized you as the mysterious B-a-g, and I have to agree. I was excited to read that in 2012 all may be revealed. I will have to keep reading.

Laura Bloomsbury said...

with the lunar eclipse yesterday you picked a hot topic for gardening b-a-g ;) Interesting as I too have a fennel and wondered whether it has a bulb at the end or is just a tall plant architecture. Having transplanted and seen it gasping on endless occasions I suspect not. Off to dig it up and see if its a full moon or merely eclipsed by its foliage.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Your fennel looks like my fall radishes...I am still suspect about planting with moon cycles...I know some gardeners who swear by it and are very successful with their harvests.

greggo said...

My mother swears by the moon cycle. I always transplant on best days from the farmers almanac. However, I'm not a big astrological person. My bronze has lived two and is 6'tall as it is grown in the ground. Interested to see if it will return this spring. I transplanted it in spring and it had a very long tap root. And Ill bet 1 cc cookie.

Grassroots Horticulture said...

Your post is interesting. I remember from forcing flowers in the greenhouses that the amount of dark is most important thing to success so the "moon" phase is probably involved in your fennels flowering and the bulb enlarging. I need some recipes for fennel. Mine loves its location. 8A Zone I grow it for the butterflies.

catharine Howard said...

Interesting - reason 1 has caused me a good few failures with vegetable sowing. Something to do with circadian clock? But you as scientist may say Rubbish.

b-a-g said...

Hi Helen - your experience gives me hope.

Linnie & Greggo - I wouldn't give my cookies away so easily.

Carolyn - Sorry to hear about your onions, bolting seems to be a common problem. You & Alistair make me chuckle.

Laura - I didn't know about the lunar eclipse, I might have missed a rare planting opportunity. Hope you have more luck with your fennel than I.

Donna & Catherine - The results of my experiment may put an end to the speculation ;)

Welcome Jeanette - Thanks for the tip, I have never left my seed trays in the dark to germinate. I might try that this year. I really recommend the fish soup.

Christine @ the Gardening Blog said...

"extra-terrestial assistance" - you had me on the floor!

Stacy said...

I've read about the moon-cycle thing but then find myself exasperated with the idea of limiting when you can plant even further. The window between when the weather is warm enough and when it's too warm for planting is only about a month long, and to hope that the right moon phase during that month coincides with a day that isn't windy when I also have the time and organizational skills to plant--hmm. On the other hand, after enough batches of wussy seedlings, what is there to lose...?

HolleyGarden said...

At least it makes a pretty flower!

debsgarden said...

I just recently discovered fennel! My husband tried it in a recipe, and now I think I must grow it in my garden. I hope yours does well next time. I have limited success with carrots, so I'm not sure what to expect.

Bom said...

I was amused by the concept of a lucky pot. So much so that I was disappointed to find out that you had to repot.

I wish I could grow fennel but the climate is not the best for it. Strangely, there are quite a few shops selling fennel seeds.

Malar said...

Never grow them before. Hoep you have good size fennel to harvest soon!

Alistair said...

Hi b-a-g, I know what you mean, I have a small statue in the garden I named the picture the naked lady she gets quite a few hits, metaphorically speaking. Plant bronze fennel to look particularly good in the mixed border as well as having culinary uses. Have a great Christmas, will be in touch in 2012.

b-a-g said...

I'll take that as a compliment Christine.

Holly - You always see the positive side!

Deb - I'm pretty sure that juicy fennels grown in a garden are in a different league to those in the shops.

Bom - It was a lucky pot.. till I tried to grow fennel in it.
I love fennel seed tea.

Stacy - I didn't think about those complications when I designed the experiment. Luckily, Malar commented on the last post that her Mum "plants when the moon is growing". This would be simpler than trying to align with a lunar calendar (it also means I don't need to check the formulae).

Thanks Malar for your Mum's tip, it's really helped me out.

Thanks Alistair - I'll check out bronze fennel, Greggo seems to be a fan too.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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