A while ago I wrote an e-mail to Bill McKay at Grow Italian about raising fennel bulbs. I noted that on a trip to Italy last Fall I observed that Italian gardeners trench their fennel so that they can get more water to it in the late summer when it is starting out, can blanch it and can mulch it for in-ground winter storage. I told him I was going to try it this Fall and see how it worked. I did a 4′ by 4′ bed of fennel, direct seeded, in trenches about 4″ deep. I kept them well watered and thinned them twice. I wound up with about 20-24 plants. I pulled dirt over them in about mid October and in mid November I packed the rows with leaf mulch. Soon after that we got about 5″ of snow. Then temps dropped down near 20F. When it warmed up, I put more mulch on top from the ground-up remains of our asparagus patch. Here is a picture of the bed all mulched up.
From the soil level to the top of the mulch is about a foot. The fennel fronds at the bottom are from ones that I just harvested. An interesting aside, when I harvested these bulbs, the snow below the mulch was still there.
With my raised beds I have to always harvest the plants closest to the edge of the beds because the cold penetrates in from the outer sides of the beds for maybe 6 inches inward. So, I pulled out a few fennel bulbs. Our sons were home for the Thanksgiving holiday, all be it a week late due to work schedules, so we called it Mis’giving. The day they were scheduled to fly out we had a lunch of capon tetrazzini with roasted fennel. The capon was left over from the main meal the day before ’cause we don’t think much of turkey. So, here are the bulbs I harvested.
The knife in the picture is a 4″ paring knife. The bulb on the right weighed in at 2 lb. 2 oz. At current prices in the market for fennel, the bulbs in the picture were $14.50 and the bulbs in the store had much more unusable tops. To prepare them for roasting I only had to remove one outer layer from each side.
Roasted fennel is one of my favorite winter vegetables. Here is a picture of the final product.
They were delicious.
So … the technique seems to work. I got terrific fennel bulbs and I can now keep them in my garden for the rest of the Winter. I estimate I have about 16-18 bulbs left. It is set to go down to the lower teens tonight but the bulbs in the garden are secure at about 34F or so with very high humidity.