If you have been reading this blog for a while you probably know that one of my favorite Fall crops is fennel. It does particularly well maturing in the cool fall temps and will hold in the garden into the Winter if mulched which also helps to blanch it. Last year I had huge late bulbs … easily six inches in diameter … and bigger is better in the case of fennel. Now is the time to plant it for this Fall.
Fennel should ideally be direct seeded. It has a tap root and anything with a tap root HATES to be disturbed (think carrot). But this year has been a very dry year and fennel is slow to sprout in less than optimal conditions. So, I am trying an experiment.
I sprouted a bunch of seeds in a 4″ by 6″ plastic flat. In good seeding medium (I always use Pro-Mix BX by the way) and with lots of warmth and water they were up in a week. I let them grow until their two initial leaves were about 2″ long. Yesterday I transplanted them into the garden with a special technique.
I worked up a bed with my fork, loosening the soil about a foot down (without turning it over since I believe in maintaining soil structure. I put on about 2″ of compost and raked the top smooth. Then, in a 4′ by 4′ bed I set out 25 plants (5 by 5). To set them in I used the “muddy’ing in ” technique.
I watered the flat until the soil was soupy. Then I lifted out a seedling. It comes out easily, undamaged and bare root. I then use my finger to make a drill (3″ deep hole) in the soil where I want the plant to go. I carefully lower the bare roots down into the hole and fill the hole with lots of water from a small watering can. I make sure that the water catches soil on the edge of the hole as I pour it in. Eventually, the muddy water will completely and tightly surround the bare roots with moist soil. I make sure that the plant is sticking out of the ground at the level it grew in the starting flat and that the hole is completely filled in. I did this for all 25 plants and then covered the bed with floating row cover to keep wind and intense sun off of the tender seedlings until I see that they are growing again.
This has worked for me before so I am hopeful it will work again. It is a gardener technique, not a farmer technique since what you can do for 25 plants you can’t do for 2500.
Update at + 6 days: I had three failures out of 25 transplants. I replaced these with ones that I had set aside in small plastic cells. I now seem to have 25 viable plants. The ones that I transplanted into plastic cells seem to have done OK. I guess the secret to transplanting fennel, whether via plastic cell pots or my “muddy’n in” technique is that Fennel has to be transplanted very quickly after emergence. The tap root can’t be thwarted in its growth.