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How to grow delicious celery

Celery is a marshland plant of the Apiaceae family, that has been cultivated as a vegetable since ancient times. The vegetable has a long fibrous stalk tapering into leaves. The plant's stalks and leaves may be eaten, depending on the variety grown.

  • Genus: Apium graveolens
  • Plant type: Apiaceae
  • Height: 18 to 24 inches (45.72 to 60.96 cm)
  • Width: 8 to 12 inches (20.32 to 30.48 cm)
  • Leaves: 1 to 2 1‚ĀĄ2 inches (3 to 6 cm) long and 1 to 1 1‚ĀĄ2 inches (2 to 4 cm) broad with rhombic leaflets
  • Flowers: Creamy-white and between 0.078 to 0.118 inches (2 to 3 mm) wide
  • Propagation:
    • Seed germination
    • Cutting (from 2 in above roots, allowed to grow roots in water, replanted after small leaves appear)
  • Water requirement: ~50 fl oz (1.5 liters) through each week per plant
  • Harvest time: The harvest time for celery begins at the end of October after the last growth spurt in the middle of the month. The winter vegetables can still be harvested at the beginning of November - however, please note that you should harvest before ground frost and snowfall so as not to impair the taste of the vegetables.

Why grow Celery? 

Celery is derived from wild celery which has thin stems and long toothy leaves. This already had widespread use as a medicinal plant in the Mediterranean region through antiquity, with regional references going back all the way to the 9th century. The plant began to be domesticated by the 16th century. All celery varieties are said to have an aphrodisiac effect, and the ingredients of the plant are also considered to be anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive and diuretic. The plant is used in some naturopathy courses to counter rheumatic complaints, amongst other therapies. Celery also contains a range of polyphenols, which act as radical scavengers to protect human cells. The leaves of the plant contain a lot of calcium, potassium and vitamin C. They are very suitable as vegetables but can also be consumed fresh or dried for seasoning soups, stews, sauces, salads and meat.

The natural habitat of wild celery is the nutrient-rich and clayey, calcareous and salty marshlands of the European Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. While celery is mainly grown in Europe, the plant is more popular in North America. It does not form a tuber, but rather long, fleshy and highly aromatic, juicy leaf stalks that emerge from the heart of the plant. White celery is a variant of celery. 

Depending on the variety, it is either planted closely so that the plants compete with each other for light, or it is grown in ditches where the leaves reach for light as the plant grows.

Celery flowers provide celery seeds. If you’re looking at planting celery each season, it makes good sense to allow a portion of your crop to flower and seed.

Grow celery in your backyard or homestead

Location and soil

Celery plants like sunny to partially shaded locations. As a heavy eater, it grows best on nutrient-rich, loamy soils that must be as calcareous as possible and sufficiently moist. If sandy soil is predominant in your garden, you should improve it with four to five liters of mature compost per square meter, which you mix beforehand with about 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of algae lime.

Germination

Plan to sow celery no later than mid-March, in starter pots on the windowsill or in a greenhouse. Celery has a long culture period. Six to eight weeks of preculture should be planned for, until planting in mid-May. 

It is best to let celery seeds soak in water overnight and then sow them in seed boxes on top of potting soil. The seeds need to be pressed down well with a board and sanded over lightly, just enough to form a moisture capture layer around the seeds. 

Ideally place the starter pots into a sink/tub with a little water, and let the water soak the soil upward (osmosis). Alternatively, gently spray the soil with a fine mist water and cover the pot with a transparent lid.¬†The seeds require light so place on a windowsill and ensure a temperature of between 60.8¬į to 68¬įF (16¬į to 20¬įC).¬†If possible, the temperature range should not be allowed to fall below this range otherwise the seeds may germinate after a longer period.¬†After they have two to three well-developed leaflets, the starter pots may be transferred to slightly cooler but well-lit spot.¬†About two weeks after transferring,¬†you should provide the plants with nutrients in form of a light liquid organic fertilizer.¬†Before they are planted in the farm or garden beds, they should be hardened on a terrace or open space to gradually acclimatize to direct sunlight.

 

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Planting

From mid-May, plant the well-hardened seedlings allowing space of 18 inches (45.72 cm) on all sides, in a previously prepared vegetable patch. If possible, do not transplant the young plants any deeper than they were previously in the pot. The soil needs to be pressed down well around the young plants. For self-bleaching varieties, you can reduce the planting space to 8 inches (20.32 cm) between plants. Conventional trenching varieties have to be planted in shallow ditches within the bed, about 10 inches (25.4 cm) deep. Adequate water supply is essential. Celery will need the greatest amount of water from mid-August to the beginning of October, so you should water it once or even twice a day.

Maintenance

If there is a risk of a cold spell after planting out, you should cover the celery stalks with fleece to prevent later shoots (the formation of seed heads). Celery will continue to require a steady supply of water and nutrients throughout the growing season. You can provide the plants with compost several times a year. You can occasionally even supply your celery stalks with stale, mildly salty cooking water, for example drained water previously used to boil potatoes. Alternatively, you can also dissolve a level teaspoon of sea salt in ten liters of water and pour it over the celery every four weeks. Nettle manure diluted in a ratio of one to ten is also well suited as a nitrogen and mineral supplier.

If you prefer pale stems, you can encourage green-stemmed varieties by pulling soil high all around each plant with a hoe, two to three weeks before harvest. Withdrawal of light prevents the formation of chlorophyll and the base of the stem turns light green to pale yellow, depending on the duration they’re covered.

Pro Tip: For better results, first hold the stems together with your hand and wrap a layer of corrugated cardboard around each stem. Make sure that there is no space between the surface of the ground and the lower edge of the cardboard, but that the leaf pods are still visible.

Harvest and storage

Celery is ready for harvest October onward. Most varieties are sensitive to frost and should be harvested before the first night frost. You simply pull the whole plant including the roots out of the bed. Commercial operations often wrap the stalks in packing paper, about three weeks before harvest to protect the plant.

The best way to store celery stalks is to cut the stems slightly above where the first leaf branches. Then wrap the plants up to the heart in newspaper or packing paper and wrap the roots tightly in a box of damp sand. This will keep them fresh in a cool cellar for about eight weeks. They can also be kept in a home or commercial refrigerator's vegetable compartment for around three to four weeks without any special preparation.

Things to keep in mind

As a heavy nutrient consumer, celery needs an annual bed change so that it does not leach out the soil. It should only be grown on the same bed every four years to avoid chance of disease and soil fatigue. Allowing soil to recover by planting crimson clover and winter vetch, is ideal. If you grow celery between types of cabbage, the inter-crop plants are less likely to be attacked by white cabbage butterfly caterpillars, as the intense celery scent keeps the pests away.