Celery was used medicinally way before it was used for culinary purposes. I use my juicer to make celery juice almost daily, so I decided it would be a good idea to try to grow celery. This process turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected, unlike leek which grew so easily. You can grow celery from the base or purchase seeds, which is a bit more difficult. We will go over both alternatives in this article.
Homegrown celery tastes delicious since it has a more intense flavor. It is also one of the vegetables that absorbs the most amounts of pesticides, so it is best to grow celery organically.
Celery Growing Conditions
This Mediterranean plant does not tolerate heat. The ideal condition to grow celery is a mixture of cool summers, long falls and mild winters. Most people who live in places with seasons harvest celery during the fall. It is possible to have two crops per year if you live somewhere with a long growing season and start your seedlings indoors in the spring.
Those that grow celery in pots indoors during the winter, should ensure to get a pot that allows for deep roots and to water only when stems wilt. Outdoor pots will need more water than plants in the garden. Too little water and too much water can cause the plant to droop, wilt or turn yellow, so it is important to find a balance. This plant needs water always, otherwise it will become stringy and bitter. Dry celery produces hollow stems. Compost and mulch assists the soil in retaining water. Fish emulsion is a good balanced fertilizer which can be applied once during the second or third month of growth. Weekly watering with manure tea is another option.
To grow celery you will need rich soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or rotted manure. Coffee grounds also work great. The ideal pH to grow celery ranges between 5.8 and 6.8. You can use a soil test if you are not sure of your soil’s pH. Tie the celery stalks as they grow to keep them from sprawling.
You will need patience to grow celery since it takes between 130 to 140 days to mature. There are plenty of types of celery, so make sure you choose one suitable to your climate. Do not worry if your celery is darker or smaller than those purchased in the grocery store which are usually grown in greenhouses and exposed to pesticides.
This plant has shallow roots, which means it cannot compete with weeds, so it is important to keep the area free of them if you want to grow celery. Mulching can help. Celery does not have many pest problems. Covering plants with garden fabric during the first four to six weeks will help control pests. Good companion planting for celery includes mint, dill, sage, shallots and garlic.
Earwigs are insects that make small holes in the leaves and stalks. You can control them by using a small container such as a tuna can with fish oil sunk in the soil above ground level. Row covers and mulching will help with flea beetle problems. Carrot rust flies are another type of insect that can affect celery plants. Use row covers, as well as yellow sticky plants. Native plants will invite beneficial insects which will control the bad ones.
Slugs and snails like to eat celery. They can be handpicked. Avoid watering overhead. Food-grade diatomaceous earth serves as a barrier, as well as copper plant collars. You can drown slugs and snails in a container with 1/2 inch of beer or sugar water and yeast. Cucumber mosaic virus can cause ringed spots on leaves, as well as distorted growth. It may also stunt your plant and create mottled patterns. Destroy plants that are infected and make sure to control aphids which carry this virus.
How to Grow Celery from Stalks
Growing celery from the stalk can be a continuous process because you can use the base to repeat the process, thus having fresh celery all year long. To grow celery from scraps you need to use a long, sharp knife to cut the stalks one to 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 2 inches (5.1 cm) from the base. Clean the stalk with water making sure that there is no dirt, bugs or debris.
Place the stalk in a shallow bowl with warm water which stimulates the growth of new stalks. The bottom roots must be placed in the water while the top must be above the water. About 2/3 of the celery stalk should be submerged in water. Use toothpicks if needed depending on the container you are using. Place it by a window or outdoors where it is covered and can get indirect sunlight. Celery grown from cuttings needs between six to seven hours of natural light per day. Make sure to change the water every day or two.
It is very cool to see how the celery starts growing in just a few days. Small green leaves will start to grow with their stalks in the middle of the base. Outer stalks will turn brown or dry out. Once you see this it is important to plant the celery in soil, otherwise the stalk will rot. The average time from water to soil is about a week.
Make a hole in the center of the soil, then place the celery stalk with the roots down. Cover the base with soil making sure the new leaves are above. Use a pot that is at least 6 inches (15 centimeters) wide and 5 inches (13 centimeters) tall.
How to Grow Celery from Seeds
Soak your seeds (buy celery seeds here) for 24 to 48 hours before planting to get better results. It is not necessary to cover seeds with soil, but if you cover them make sure it is lightly. Germination takes about a week (up to two) when soil has a temperature of 70 F (21 C).
Transplant seedlings outdoors when they reach between 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 centimeters) or at least have a few true leaves. Make sure to give some shade to your seedlings during the hottest part of the day. Outdoor conditions must be above 55 F (12 C) during the day and 40 F (4 C) at night. Cold temperatures will cause the seedlings to bolt and form seed. Celery can only tolerate cold if it’s covered with a frost blanket.
When you grow celery it is important to give plants a space of 8 inches, since celery’s roots spread between 6 to 8 inches. This plant has a shallow root system that is only 2 to 3 inches deep.
How to Blanch Celery
Those who grow celery must learn the balancing process, which pretty much covers the celery stalk to prevent sunlight from reach the stems. This will change the color from deep green to light green. Blanching changes the flavor from bitter to sweet. It also helps stems stretch upwards, which will reduce stringiness. Unblanched celery has a stronger flavor and more nutrients.
The ideal time to blanch celery is between 10 to 21 days before harvesting. It is important to leave the leaves uncovered during this process so they can continue the photosynthesis process which feeds the plant. Cover the stems upright by surrounding the plant with empty cardboard cartons with the bottom removed. It is also possible to wrap cardboard and secure it with string.
Many people who grow celery simply use soil as a mound. Traditional celery growers planted celery on the base of a trench which is slowly filled with soil to blanch the stems. This would explain why purchased celery is usually full of soil. Make sure to wash it well to remove all the dirt before eating.
There are varieties of celery that self blanch, although you can still do the process to make them even sweeter. These varieties are naturally sweeter than the varieties that need blanching. People plant them in blocks so the plants can shade each other, producing less stringy stalks.
How to Harvest Celery
Celery takes about four months to be ready to harvest; this can depend according to the variety. When you grow celery make sure to harvest before the 5 month mark. The longer you wait the tougher the vegetable gets, but this also means it is healthier.
It is possible to cut celery from the plant itself during the growing season if they are large enough. Pick each stalk from the outside of the plant. This will allow the plant to keep growing.
Most who grow celery prefer harvesting the whole plant which can be cut at the soil line, or pulled up completely. You can tell that the vegetable is ready when the stalks are at least 6 inches long from the base to the top. Cut the roots if you decide to pull up the whole plant. Water your plants the day before harvesting for better flavor and longer storage.
To harvest celery seeds let the plant bolt, which means allowing it to grow beyond the harvest time. Seed stalks will appear in the top of the plants, along with green flowers. Stop watering at this point so celery plants become dry and brittle. Remove them and gently tap the flowers with a spoon or shake them over a container to capture the seeds which can be used for culinary purposes or planting.
Celery can be conserved in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, although it starts loosing its crisp after some time. For longer storage wrap the stalks with foil or plastic wrap or place them in a large ziplock bag. They are best kept in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Wilted stalks can come back to life if you cut half an inch from both ends and place them in an ice water bath for half an hour.