A Gardener’s Diary: Moving towards organic

Jocelyne Sewell shares tips for growing fennel, which can be grown as an herb or as a vegetable

Just a year ago, this was the start of my gardening columns. Having to do some research, I learned a few things myself in the process. When I find something interesting on the Internet, I also refer to some of my gardening books to try to get the best references to some of the written articles.

I just watched a French video about the organic movement and finding some hope that things are gradually changing for the best, with people asking for safer and better food. The video is 90 minutes and you travel through the U.S., Mexico, Africa, Germany, Japan and France. It also shows the devastating results of the GMO food and how the Roundup-ready seeds and plants are not working and it takes more and more pesticides and insecticides. The farmers are fed up and many of them are going back to the old ways when you knew what you were eating.

In Mexico, one of the farmers plants his fields with corn, beans and pumpkin seeds together. The beans as a legume puts nitrogen in the soil and they climb up the corn stalks. The pumpkins with the large leaves shade the soil. When the harvest is done, he lets the cows and chickens in the field and they do the fertilizing. I don’t have cows or chickens but I will try these three vegetables together this year.

Another vegetable I will try to grow is fennel. Fennel is often classified as both an herb and a vegetable, and can be used in many ways in the kitchen. It’s also a popular plant among herbalists, and has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy most commonly for digestive problems. Fennel has a wonderful anise flavor that works well in both savoury and sweet recipes. It’s a popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. The bulbs are commonly roasted or grilled or added raw to salads, and soups. Ancient Romans ate fennel roots, leaves and seeds in their salads, breads and cakes, and enjoyed its aromatic fruits and edible shoots.

There are two types of fennel that you may want to grow in your garden, depending on how you plan to use it. Florence fennel is used more like a vegetable and is grown for its bulbous stem. Herb fennel doesn’t really produce much of a bulb and is grown for its foliage and used like an herb. Fennel should be grown in full sun, in fertile, well-drained soil. It should not be planted in the same area as dill or coriander because they will cross-pollinate. Fennel self-sows easily. In our climate, fennel is treated as an annual. You can also grow fennel in containers that are at least 10 inches deep.

Fennel can grow up to five feet tall  so make sure you plant it behind the other plants. It is not a good companion plant for tomatoes and beans. You can plant the seeds directly in the garden near the last spring frost date or start them under lights about four weeks before the last frost date and transplant them after hardening them off. Water deeply and regularly but don’t overwater or the plants will rot. Fennel does not need to be fertilized during the growing season.

Fennel rarely suffers from any problems. Aphids can sometimes be an issue. Florence fennel is the one to grow if you want to harvest the bulbous stems to use as a vegetable. The leaves and seeds of this variety are also edible, so you get three uses in one plant.

Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club meets on Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Schubert Centre. Everyone is welcome. For more information, please call 250-558-4556

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast and member of Okanagan Gardens and Roses Club in Vernon. Her column appears every other Wednesday.