Crisp, Tender Celery

Common name: Celery
Botanical name: Apium Graveolens
Family: Apiaceae
Aspect and Soil: Part Shade Fertile
Best Climate: cool, temperate, sub tropical
Habit:Upright
Propagation:seed
Difficulty: moderate
 
Celery is a popular vegetable where the long slender stalk can be eaten fresh delivering a crisp healthy choice to the diet or cooked to add flavour to any meal.  Celery originated in the Mediterranean around 850 BC.  There are wild relatives of celery found in a number of countries throughout the world and in England it is called ‘Smallage’ used to flavour soups.  In the 1700’s the Italian’s carried out variety improvements. Today’s celery has valuable nutrients of vitamins K, folate B9, B6, C, A, B1, E, minerals Potassium, Sodium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron & Zinc.  To produce delicious celery, allow a growing season of up to 140 days. 
 
How to grow
Celery does best in cool moist growing conditions with ample soil moisture, regular consistent watering is essential as it has shallow roots to only 10 cm.
The plant stores up to 80% water.  Plant seedlings in a sun to part shade position. Celery enjoys fertile soil to 20 cm deep rich in organic matter.  Fertility can be increased by digging in manure, compost, or add a side dressing of organic fertiliser during the growing period. Plants that are growing well will have a dark green leaf and stalk colour and a stronger flavour with high nutritional value.
 
The blanching of plants while actively growing will produce a mild tasting bunch of celery plus it will be lighter in colour.  Basically this can be achieved by reducing the amount of light the plant receives which in effect blanches the vegetable; it grows more rapidly producing soft tender growth.  By providing shelter for the plants this will encourage the stalks to elongate.  Empty milk containers come in handy to encircle plants.  Cut off the top and ends of the containers and use the long tube section by placing over the top of the plants to fully enclose all the stalks.  Leave this on until ready to harvest.  Another method is to use wide sheets of timber placed along both sides of the celery plants to shelter from the light.  Celery can also be planted in trenches so extra water can be provided, the plants will stay moist longer and the trench walls provide shelter for the plants.  Mulching plants will help retain soil moisture.
 
Celery seeds are only small and can be sown in containers or direct in the garden.  Cover seed with a fine soil covering of 3 mm.  Once the small seedlings are 5 cm high they can be transplanted to a permanent position in the garden.  Spacing plants 40 cm apart is adequate and be sure to keep moist at all times. As the day length gets longer and the spring weather begins to warm up, celery will naturally go to flower.  The small creamy white coloured flowers are produced in dozens of umbel shaped heads that can stand up to 1.2 m.  This attracts the bees, lady beetles and lacewings which are always welcome.   To collect celery seed, look for the tiny seeds in the umbel when it is a light brown colour and cut individual florets as they are ready.  Place florets in a paper bag for further drying.  Just one plant can produce thousands of seeds.
 
Planting Time
Cool Climate:Sow seeds March to September avoiding summer heat.
Temperate Climate: Sow seeds March to July.
Subtropical Climate:  Sow seed March to July.
Tropical Climate:  Sow seed April to June.
 
Varieties
Tall Utah – dark green stringless stalks to 70 cm
Tendercrisp – green smooth stringless stalks
Red Stalk - maroon to red stalk with similar colour in the midrib of the leaf
Golden Self Blanching– dwarf, compact thick stringless stalks, pale golden leaves Chinese Celery – thin short stalks, strong flavour   
 
 
Trouble Shooting 
Because celery is mainly grown in cooler weather, plants generally encounter few problems.  Be wary of slugs and snails which can become a problem and infest plants.  They are generally found hiding in the base of the stalks where they can find suitable hiding spots.  As the weather warms up white fly is an insect to keep an eye out for as they can multiply quickly and live amongst the leaves by sucking the nutrients from the plants.  Red spider attacks plants in dry conditions therefore watering leaves more regular will help remedy the problem.  Sprays such as Pyrethrum and Eco Oil will assist with the control of these small pests. 
Hollow stem is mainly caused by lack of soil moisture and essential nutrients. 
 
Tip 
Provide adequate soil nutrients and ample soil moisture for tenderness.
 
 
Harvesting Storing and Preserving
Celery stalks are ready to pick once they are up to 40 cm long.  The leaves and stalks can also be used at any time to make fresh juices, smoothies, added to soups, stews and casserole dishes. 
Leaves are packed with nutrients and flavour so pick, chop and dry these.  When thoroughly dry it can be stored in a glass jar next to the other spices and added to various dishes.  When added to Celtic salt, it makes celery salt seasoning!     
 
Celery can be stored in the refrigerator once harvested and can keep for up to 6 weeks at temperatures between 0 - 5 degrees.  The leaves and small petioles freeze well for up to 3 months and are a handy size for soups when packaged in small zip lock bags.
 
Preserving celery is a good way to extend the harvesting period as pickles with other vegetables in season such as cauliflower, carrots, and pickling onions.  Also try Celery Chutney on its own or with mixed vegetables such as fennel or dill.
 
To order seeds visit - www.greenpatchseeds.com.au

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