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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
– 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.
– 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.