Sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var dulce) is traditionally native to Sardinia. Its Latin name means "little hay" because of the appearance of its leaves when they are dry. In antiquity, it was considered a magical plant associated with white magic and also as an aphrodisiac.
Also called "bitter fennel", it is a herbaceous perennial which is mainly grown for its flavoring seeds. Either whole or ground, they are used as a condiment (for bread or soups seasoning) or as an infusion. Leaves are also very popular as a seasoning for fish or vegetable dishes.
Sowing can be done under shelters in early spring and in place at the end of it. If it is done in place early in the spring, it must be done under a protection (screens, frames or burlap). Seeds should be buried 1 cm deep and covered with potting soil. They will sprout after 10-15 days. For a seeding in place, spacing of 40 cm between rows is considered ideal. Seeds must be sown every 3 to 5 cm and then, after 6 weeks, thinned out to 20 cm apart. It is possible to replant the thinned plants. Seedlings in nurseries should be lifted after 2 months when the plants are about 10 cm tall (taking care to dig it up with soil around roots). It is important to constantly moisten the soil throughout the emergence.
Location / Exposure
Sweet fennel is a sun-loving plant (it is most needed when its fruits ripen) that likes mild and temperate climates. It also needs enough room to grow as it can reach 2 m high in the second year. It needs fertil, light, fresh, well-drained and deep soils but does not like stony soils. It must be given a place apart because it tends to pollinate quickly with other plants.
It is important to water frequently so that the soil remains fresh. It is also necessary to loosen the soil and to amend it with compost as well as to make a good mulching. It is also good to put stakes or tie the stems together to give them better stability and prevent them from bending or breaking.
If the young leaves can be picked very early and also all year long (the older ones become quite hard), the harvest of fruits must wait until the second year, in autumn, when they harden. However it must be done before they reach full maturity which means when they are yellow / greenish, almost brown. The plant can be dried upside down in a warm, dry and ventilated place. Flowers heads can also be dried in a basin in the same conditions. They can stay like this for a week, then seeds need to be taken off and kept in a closed container for a period of 6 to 12 months.
Sweet fennel is a hardy plant that can spend winter outdoors.