Celery (Apium graveolens) is a vegetable that is popular with the health conscious. The stalks are almost absent of calories, yet contain important vitamins and minerals. Many herbal remedies claim that celery helps balance blood pH, lowers cholesterol, relieves constipation, normalizes body temperature and promotes normal healthy kidney function, although there is not much science-based information to substantiate these claims.
Celery has a very mild flavor. Fresh garden grown celery usually has a stronger, yet pleasant flavor. The mild taste is what makes celery such a great tool for dipping into your favorite dip, salad dressing or sauce. It also adds a little crunch to recipes.
Celery originated 3,000 years ago in wild wetland areas of Europe, especially the Mediterranean, and is related to parsley. Originally, it was used for medicinal purposes and had religious significance in some cultures. It requires a very long growing season but has a very low tolerance for both heat and cold. The demanding growing conditions makes it an ultimate growing challenge and not for the faint of heart. Although some gardeners rise to the challenge, many growers look for different edible plants such as bulb fennel, which has the look and crunch of celery but not the flavor; or lovage, a leafy perennial herb with a strong celery flavor but not the crunch of celery.
If you’re up for a challenge, why not try growing celery? With that said, there are a limited number of varieties on the market. Varieties that require blanching are used very little in the home garden, as they require a lot of extra work. It usually is difficult to find in seed catalogs, but seedlings are sometimes available in garden stores.
Celery has a long maturity time of 120 to 140 days. If you want to start from seeds, sow indoors at least 10 weeks before the last frost date. Celery seeds are tiny and tricky to plant. Try mixing them with sand and then sprinkle the sand-seed mix over the potting soil. Celery seeds like to be planted very shallow. Cover the seeds with just a little bit of soil. Once the celery seeds have sprouted and are large enough, thin the seedlings down to 2 or 3. As they continue to grow, thin to one per pot. Once the temperatures outside are consistently above 50 degrees you can transplant into your garden. Celery is very temperature sensitive; don’t transplant too early or you will kill or weaken the plant. Space plants 1 foot apart, in rows 2 to 2 ½ feet apart.
Celery grows best in evenly moist, nutrient-rich soil with a pH of 6.0-7.0. It needs at least six hours of sun, but also needs to be shaded during the hottest part of the day. A growing celery plant needs lots of water and can’t tolerate drought of any kind. If the ground isn’t kept consistently moist, it will negatively affect the taste of the celery. Add plenty of compost and mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and fertility. Add general purpose fertilizer before planting, and fertilize regularly throughout the growing season. Harvest stalks from the outside in. You may begin harvesting when stalks are about 8 inches tall. Celery will tolerate a light frost, but not consecutive frosts or hard frost.
Many gardeners prefer to blanch their celery. This means to make them lighter in color and more tender. When blanching celery, you are reducing the amount of vitamins in the plant. Blanching celery can be done one of two ways. The first way is to just slowly build a mound around a growing celery plant. Every few days add a little more soil or mulch and at harvest the celery plant will be blanched. The other method is to cover the lower half of the celery plant with thick brown paper or cardboard a few weeks before you plan to harvest the celery.
A broad range of insects and pests are attracted to celery, including slugs, aphids, leafhoppers, celery flies, and more. Diseases can also be problematic, especially leaf spot and blight. Splitting of stalks is a result of dry weather and too little moisture.
And the benefit will be healthy home-grown snacks as well as the satisfaction of knowing you grew one of the more challenging vegetables!
Announcement: Kids Day at the Farmer’s Market
Master Gardeners are trying something new. This year we will again be at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, however, now on the last Sunday of each month we will be presenting a Kids Day. Look for our table in front of our regular spot at the market. June 30th the topic is bees and July 28th it will be butterflies. We encourage you to bring your kids to enjoy a time for learning about our important pollinators.