June is a great time to start herbs in the garden. We’ve added a number of new herbs including Genovese Basil , Florence Fennel, a bulbing fennel, Cutting Celery, and Parsley – Gigante d’Italia to our list.
When aphids cover your broccoli or decimate your rose buds, instead of reaching for the spray bottle, open up a seed packet. The soft, feathery leaves of Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, are a magnet for ladybugs and their lacy flowers provide nectar for a variety of predatory insects including lacewings, hover flies, and soldier bugs. Attracting these beneficials into your garden will not only keep pest insects under control, but will free up your time to enjoy your garden!
Fennel is a Mediterranean herb belonging to the Umbelliferae family. The leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds have a sweet licorice taste. The plants grow about 5 feet high and are perennial in zones 6-9. The yellow flowers of fennel are extremely attractive to all nectar-feeding beneficial insects. If you see large, black & green caterpillars on your fennel, don’t be alarmed. Fennel is also a host plant for swallow butterfly caterpillars.
Types of fennel
Common fennel can grow up to 6 feet tall and is highly prized for its ornamental value. Its height and foliage make it an excellent background plant. While it can grow in any type of soil, fennel prefers moist, rich soil and will produce much more tender leaves if pampered. Skip the stalks when harvesting from these plants as they tend to be quite tough.
A variation of common fennel is bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’. Although these plants are grown primarily for their bronze-purple foliage, they too will attract beneficial insects. The leaves are edible and make a great garnish. Once the plants begin to flower, they tend to stop producing more foliage so keep the flower stalks trimmed.
Florence Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce, forms a bulb at the base of the plant that is harvested and eaten like a vegetable. The plant itself only grows 2-3 ft tall which makes it an ideal candidate for smaller gardens. The best time to plant Florence Fennel is either in early spring or in July so that it can mature in cooler fall weather. Timing is very important when harvesting the bulb. Once it has formed, the plant tends to send up a flower stalk which will shrink the bulb immediately.
Seed for all three-fennel types should be sown directly in the garden, as the taproots of the plant don’t transplant well. Common & bronze fennel should be spaced 3 ft from other plants. They tend to be quite greedy feeders and will compete with any other plant that is forced to share space with it. Allow one plant to go to seed and you won’t have to plant fennel in your garden for a few years again.
Whether you grow fennel as an herb, vegetable or ornamental plant, find a space in your garden for this herb and you won’t have to worry about attracting ladybugs and beneficials into your garden.
Arzeena Hamir is an agronomist and garden writer based in Vancouver, BC. When she’s not planting peas or harvesting zucchini, she runs Terra Viva Organics – http://www.tvorganics.com/
Homegrown food is convenient. These days this is no small issue. The availability of fresh vegetables and fruits outside the back door offers a whole different way to use and serve food. A constant supply of fresh, nutritious food simplifies modern life where mealtimes are ad hoc events squeezed in among conflicting family schedules.
Nothing represents the way modern vegetable crops suit modern life like the wonderful lettuce seed mixtures called “mesclun” that are available now. From the Provencal region of France, the idea of planting and then harvesting many types of greens mixed together has been enthusiastically adopted in this country. Fancy restaurants feature mesclun on their menus, and grocery stores sell it for an impressive price per pound. These assortments of greens are appreciated for their sophisticated mixture of flavours, textures, and colours, their wholesome taste, and their ease of preparation. Gardeners have discovered that they are wonderfully easy (and economical) to grow, as well.
Mesclun has all the virtues of homegrown food. It yields for a long period of times, it does not need cooking, and it is nutritious, beautiful, sophisticated, and delicious. Commercially packaged seed assortments typically feature plants with a variety of colors, flavors, and textures such as peppery mustard greens, bittersweet chicory, tender butterhead, arugula, crunchy romaine, mache, endive, cress, anise tasting chervil, and, perhaps some parsley. Gardeners can make their own custom mesclun by mixing the seeds of several types of lettuces and other greens to suit family tastes.
So, when someone asks, “Why bother with a vegetable garden when there is lots of produce at the store?” I invite him or her over for dinner on a summer evening. We begin the meal and the discussion with a mesclun salad.
(…not that there’s anything wrong with being a Dandelion!)
Being a Dandelion is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, farmers and groundskeepers curse it as a troublesome weed, while those into holistic medicine search it out as a remedy for a multitude of ailments. So what’s the bottom line at least as far as your pets and neighboring wildlife are concerned?
Well, there’s no clear-cut answer. It seems that in the animal kingdom (as with humans) the Dandelion is either loved or despised. To make things a little easier, I’ve decided to make up a Dandelion Scorecard, which ranks the preferences of various fauna for the plant officially known as Taraxacum officinale.
BEES – Love it! Because it furnishes considerable quantities of nectar and pollen in the early spring when the bees harvest from fruit trees is nearly over. Beekeepers also give it a big “thumbs up” because the Dandelion flowers the spring no matter how cool the weather may be, but keeps up with a small succession of blossoms into the fall.
HORSES- Refuse to touch this plant because of the bitter milky juice present throughout the plant.
PIGS – Devour the whole plant greedily. They love the tasty young leaves, delicate flower buds, and even the roots. Maybe in hog herbal lore (just like with humans), the Dandelion exercises a stimulating influence over the whole system, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition. When’s the last time you’ve seen a constipated piggy?
GOATS – Will eat it. They’re on the same page of the book as pigs.
SHEEP – Will not. Well these aren’t the Einstein’s of the animal kingdom.
COWS – Maybe? It’s not a favorite, but on the other hand, the Dandelion is said to increase milk production when consumed. Sort of like Spinach, you may not like the taste but it is good for you.
RABBITS – Love the tender young leaves. These are a great supplement to their regular diet.
BIRDS – Very fond of it! The seeds, which are continually produced throughout the spring, summer and into the fall keep many a small bird happy and healthy.
CATS – Love to whack the gossamer balls of seeds. Not only does kitty like to see the plumed seeds disperse, but she is happy in the fact that she is helping to propagate a plant which is named after a larger relative. It’s generally assumed the jagged margins of the Dandelions’ leaves bore a resemblance to the canines of a lion. Dandelion is a corruption of the French Dent de Lion.
For human consumption, here are a few thoughts:
Early Spring Salad– The young leaves of the Dandelion are a tasty addition, along with shallot tops, lettuce and chives to a spring salad.. You may want to blanch them (the same way as endive) to obtain a more delicate flavor. Helpful Hints – Use just the young leaves since the full-grown leaves are way too bitter. Gently tear the leaves rather cut them to retain the flavor. You can season with salt, pepper and a little lemon juice to vary the taste.
Dandelion Veggie Style – The young leaves may be boiled a la Spinach fashion. Simply tear the leaves, rinse several times, and place into boiling water for approximately one hour. When cooked, drain and then place back onto low heat. Add one tablespoon of butter, one teaspoon chopped onion and ½ clove of chopped garlic, stir for two minutes, remove and serve. Helpful Hints – Instead of using onion and garlic, you may want to substitute a teaspoon of grated lemon peel and season to taste with grated nutmeg. Another idea is to use half Spinach and half Dandelions, but make sure to partially cook the Dandelions first since it takes longer than Spinach.
Dandelion Coffee – Use only roots collected in the fall. Carefully clean and dry the roots then slightly roast until they are the tint of coffee. Now they can be ground up ready for brewing. Dandelion Coffee is a natural beverage without the injurious side effects to the nerves and digestive system. It stimulates but does not cause wakefulness. Helpful Hints: For different flavors, you can mix the Dandelion grounds with a portion of coffee or even chocolate.
Dandelion Wine – This was a beverage that my grandma use to concoct and boy, was it tasty and potent! Pour a gallon of boiling water over a gallon of the Dandelion flowers. After stirring well, cover with a blanket and let stand for three days. Then strain, and boil the liquor down for thirty minutes, adding 3 ½ pounds of loaf sugar, approximately ¼ cup sliced ginger, one sliced lemon, and the rind from one orange. Cool down. When cold, add a pinch of yeast which is placed on a piece of toast into the mixture to produce fermentation. Cover again and allow to stand for two days until it has stopped working. Place into a cask, well sealed for two months to “age” before bottling. This has the reputation of being a good tonic, especially for the blood.
And finally a recipe from “The Young Housekeeper’s Friend” circa 1859: Dandelion Ranch Fare – Wash leaves very thoroughly and put in boiling water with salt in it. When tender, remove, drain, and then dip into bread crumbs moistened with a beaten egg. Brown on a griddle and serve hot.
Denise Testa writes for Exotic Edibles at exoticedibles.com , a website dedicated to organically grown plants for pets & animals.