Name: celery (Apium graveolens).
Height: up to 60cm.
Plant type: annual vegetable.
Foliage: long green stalks with heavily lobed leaves, similar to parsley.
Climate: suitable for all zones.
Soil: moist, well-drained, slightly acidic (pH 5.5–6) and enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun to part shade, with protection from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: flowers are small, creamy-white and arranged in dense clusters. They’re not usually seen, as plants are harvested before flowers appear.
Feeding: liquid feed regularly throughout the growing season.
Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.
Celery needs a long, cool season to grow well. It can be a little more demanding than most leafy greens, but the results are worth it – it’s hard to beat the taste of home grown! The stalks or stems are stiff and ribbed on the outside and emerge from a crown at soil level. The leaves are concentrated along the top half of the stem and resemble parsley leaves – they are in the same family.
The roots are shallow, so the soil needs to be kept moist to prevent them from drying out. Dark-green celery stalks can be bitter to eat, but ‘blanching’ the stems in the weeks leading up to harvest, or planting self-blanching varieties, will make the stalks more palatable.
Celery is great eaten raw, added to salads or cooked in soups and stir-fries. It’s also good in fresh juices. The flavour of celery can be overpowering, so don’t add too much unless that’s how you like it.
Celery prefers to be grown in the cooler months and it doesn’t like extremes, so sowing after the chance of frost and after hot summer conditions is ideal. In most climates you can sow seeds in autumn, but wait until late winter or early spring in cooler areas. In warm and humid climates, sow from mid-autumn or early winter.
Prepare the garden bed at least a couple of weeks prior to planting celery. Choose a spot in full sun with well-draining soil. Mix in plenty of organic matter, including compost and well-rotted manure and fork in well.
Before planting, soak seeds in warm water overnight to assist with germination. Sow direct into the prepared area and lightly cover with soil. You can also sow them in seedling trays with individual cells. Celery seeds can take 2–3 weeks to germinate, so be patient and continue to water regularly to keep the soil moist. Transplant seedlings when 10–12cm tall and space them 25cm apart. Thin seedlings already in the ground to the proper spacing between plants.
Celery needs regularly watering to help keep the soil moist. Do not allow it to dry out, otherwise it can become moisture stressed and produce stringy, bitter stalks. Spread an organic mulch, like pea straw or sugar cane, over the soil to help conserve moisture.
Celery produces vibrant, dark-green stalks, and while this is a sign of a healthy plant, the rich colour makes the stalks bitter to taste. To sweeten the stalks, you will need to blanch the stems. Use a thick piece of cardboard or a milk carton with the top and bottom removed to cover the lower stems. Wrap the card around the base or, if possible, slip the milk carton over the top of the plant. Do this in the last few weeks before harvest.
Water often to keep the soil moist. This may mean watering once daily or every couple of days, depending on your local climate. Adding mulch will help reduce watering frequency.
Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser. Look for one that’s organic-based, so it feeds the soil microbes while also supporting plant growth.
Snails and slugs can sometimes be a problem. Use physical barriers or traps, or sprinkle snail and slug bait around garden beds and pots.
In warm, humid conditions, fungal spots can develop on leaves. Remove affected leaves and bin them. If such conditions are ongoing or expected, apply a copper-based fungicide as a preventative spray.
The whole celery plant can be harvested after 14 weeks. Alternatively, remove the outer stalks as needed, leaving the younger stems to develop; this will help extend the season.
Seeds and seedlings are the best way to grow celery. However, it’s also possible to regrow store-bought celery. To do this, remove the base from the stalks, rinse clean and sit in a shallow glass of water. Position in a warm, brightly lit spot out of direct sunlight and change the water daily. After a week, new leafy growth will emerge from the centre of the base. After 10–14 days, more growth will have developed and it’s ready for planting into a prepared garden bed or pot. Ensure you plant at the right time for your climate zone.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Cabbage: patience is required to grow this leafy vegetable, but the flavour is worth it!
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