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Growing Celery

Growing celery takes a bit of work, but what's a bit of exercise for an organic crunchy munchy lunch! Apparently eating celery gives you negative calories too, because the digestive process outdoes the low calories in this high cellulose treasure.

Originally from Europe, celery can be grown in all but extreme climates, although it prefers cool temperate weather, of between 58°F and 80°F (15°C-26°C), and a heavy frost will knock them out cold.

The most popular type is the self-blanching celery. It is mild flavoured, fast maturing and requires little, if any earthing up or covering for blanching. If you like large, yellow-green tender stalks, grow these self-blanching types such as Stokes Golden Plume or the early Golden Self-Blanching.

The other types of celery are usually from the Pascal strain and have a strong flavour and tougher texture. When growing celery, choose these types more for cooking, not salads. They are also more resistant to disease. Newer varieties crossed with celery's flavoursome cousin Celeriac, are Ventura and the Utah and Florida labels.

How to grow celery — Soil preparation

Celery likes richness... don't we all. Give it good drainage and soil pH 5.8-6.7, with constant moisture. With these three requirements, you will encourage deeper roots, even growing, good development of stalks, plus stop bolting and stringiness. Depending on your back, where your garden is situated and what works for other locals, you may prefer the traditional method of celery growing...

  • Prepare a trench early of about 45cm (18") deep and nearly the same width. Fill it half full with compost and lots of rotted manure, leaves or scraps.
  • Celery needs calcium, so sprinkle some lime or gypsum in too if your soil needs it.
  • Leave everything to settle for a week or two, then plant your celery and top up with lots of mulch. Mulching is essential to keep the moisture and growth constant, especially in warmer weather.

Celery seed sowing

Celery needs a good 5 months to grow, so here's how to get a good start. Try to use 2-3 year old seeds, they are better with age... aren't we all again! The reasons are that any blight and natural germination inhibiters have given up in older seeds, so now you're the boss.

Stratifying also helps these temperamental seeds. To stratify, put in a jar or bag in the fridge over winter or for several weeks at least. Then soak the seeds overnight or briefly pour boiling water over them, to break their dormant stage.

The tiny seeds are better sown almost on the surface of a seed tray or pot, just mix them with a bit of sand or soil is best. Keep moist in a mild to warm place and in 3 weeks or more, they should sprout.

Cultivation for growing celery organically

Because commercial celery has one of the highest residues of spray on it, you will feel mighty good about growing your own celery organically.

Plant your seedlings when at least a finger high, or thin out if you have planted seeds directly into your garden, to about 30cm (1ft) apart. This allows them room for growth, but gives them a reasonably dense growing medium, whereby the plants bunch up to each other, which helps control weeds and provides some self-blanching.

Keep the mulch high and absolutely ensure that watering is steady. Water in the morning on the ground rather than the leaves if possible, to keep fungal problems away.

Every 2-4 weeks give plants a liquid seaweed feed, and even some fish fertiliser, worm castings or more compost/compost tea.

Blanching (cutting out the light) to give more tenderness and sweetness, is your choice and can be done 2-3 weeks before harvesting.

Tie the stalks together with whatever you have... old stockings, plant ties etc, then earth them up roughly one third of their height. Repeat at least a week later up to two thirds, then in 1-2 weeks do the final third up to the base of the leaves.

Alternatively for the last two weeks or so of maturing, open up brown paper bags and wrap around the stems and tie.

Problems and pests when growing celery

New strains have helped combat much of the challenges of growing celery without toxins. Beware of slugs and snails, so put out traps (see Pests).

Celery leaf spot, which shows as brown spots on the outer small leaves first before it spreads, can be avoided by checking your seedlings first before you plant and not watering the leaves. Otherwise an occasional organic fungal spray should do the trick.

Heart rot disease has mostly been bred out now, but do keep the moisture content even. Aphids and the little celery fly can sometimes visit, burrowing through the leaves, causing blisters to form. Pinch out the affected leaves and use an organic insecticide such as garlic to stop re-infestation.

Growing celery with companion plants and vice versa can be successful. Dwarf beans with their nitrogen fixing roots benefit celery, but tall beans would overshadow them.

For cabbages, the white butterfly is repelled by celery. Tomatoes and dill are good neighbours of celery and leeks can be grown in the same trench and earthed up for blanching along with the celery.

If you get the munchies during summer, you can carefully take off outer leaves to eat. When you do harvest the whole plant, cut it at the base, and it keeps well in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Happy mulching, watering and ultimately happy crunching with your success in growing celery.

Back to List of Vegetables to read about other vegetables.

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