Florence fennel is grown for its edible bulb that forms at the base of the plant, but its leaves can also be eaten. Florence fennel, a vegetable, should not be confused with the herb of the same name (fennel) - the herb does not produce a swollen bulb at its base. Both the vegetable and herb share a delicious aniseed flavour. The bulb can be steamed, fried, and roasted, and is often used to accompany fish dishes. For the best flavour, the soil around the plants needs to be kept moist. When the bulb starts to swell, it should be covered with loose soil to help keep the skin white.
Sowing the seed indoors can be helpful to take advantage of moist soil in spring, or it can be sown outdoors late spring or early summer once the warm weather arrives. If florence fennel experiences a period of cold weather it can cause the plants to bolt. The best conditions are warm summers combined with regular watering - growing through biodegradable weed fabric helps keep the soil warm and moist.
The plants perform best in rich soil. Thin the seedlings to 30 centimetres or 12 inches apart. Picking the bulbs when no larger than a tennis ball in size, about 10 centimetres or 4 inches, will provide the best flavour. The first bulbs should be ready for harvest late July or early August.
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