I’m joking with this title, of course! Celery is way more than just a caesar garnish. It’s also a peanut butter boat, and a healthy, delicious juice.
Seriously though, there are lots of ways to enjoy celery and it is becoming a popular item at the farmer’s market.
The ever-increasing price at the grocery store alone indicates that celery is in demand and customers are willing to pay top dollar for it.
However, the celery sold at the grocery store (organic excepted) is one of the most sprayed crops.
As more and more people realize this, the market for sustainably grown celery is increasing as most people like their veggies pesticide-free.
As well, nothing beats the fresh taste of organically grown celery, am I right?
What else can beat that satisfying crunch and peppery flavour?
We are going to learn from our friend Pam Dawling (Sustainable Market Farming) how to grow and sell our very own celery so that we and our customers can enjoy it pesticide-free.
There are not that many varieties of to choose from. On Pam’s farm, they grow Ventura celery with an 80 DTM (days to maturity) from transplanting and is a very widely adapted variety.
Conquistador is another variety but it has less hardiness in both hot and cold conditions.
There are also red varieties, but the trade-off for attractive colour can be stringier stalks.
Celery likes rich soil with lots of organic matter, some shade from midday and afternoon sun, and ample water without waterlogged soil.
Choose beds on the shadier side of your garden.
Celery benefits from side-dressing with compost during the growing season or a foliar spray of seaweed
A pH of 5.8-6.7 is ideal.
If you live in a warm climate, consider planting celery behind tall plants, or between rows of something else.
Challenges with this approach include the need for plentiful irrigation, and that celery is likely to be around longer than most crops.
Roll mulch hay over the celery bed before planting, to keep the soil cool and damp.
There are a couple of different techniques to soaking celery seeds you can try in order to reduce the germination time from three weeks to one.
- Soak the seeds overnight, then freeze for a week before sowing.
- Pour 120°F (48.5°C) water on the seeds and soaking overnight.
Some say that older seed has a better germination rate than new seed because the germination inhibitor that induces dormancy has lost strength.
Pam has found that freshly sown seed comes up just as well as year-old seed in her hoophouse.
You might want to experiment for yourself and see if the older seed grows well for you as well.
If the old seed theory is correct, it could have the advantage that seed-borne diseases die before the seed does.
Germination is slow, typically taking 14 to 21 days.
Celery takes 10-12 weeks to grow to transplant size, so be sure to start in plenty of time.
Pam sows in open flats, then spots out (prick out) into deeper flats.
She sows in early February, about 10 weeks before her last frost date.
Sow seeds ⅛” deep, and keep the soil surface moist.
The optimal temperature range is 59-70°F (15-21°C). The ideal temperature is 68°F (20°C) during the day and 59°F (15°C) at night.
Emergence takes 7 days at 68°F (20°C). At this temp, 97% of seeds should produce seedlings.
Once the seeds have germinated, you’ve succeeded with the most difficult part of celery growing. Congrats!
Bring the seedlings into full light in the greenhouse (or windowsill) and grow them at 70-75°F (21-25°C).
When they have two true leaves, the seedlings can be spotted out to individual cells, or a 2” spacing in 3” deep open flats.
Celery does not develop deep roots, so deep containers are not needed.
Celery should not be hardened off by reducing temps, as this can cause them to bolt.
More than about 9 nights below 55°F (12°C) will cause bolting.
Plants can have their watering reduced to help them get ready for their move outdoors.
Use rowcover if a cold spell arrives after you have planted them out, or if you know cold weather is likely to return.
Transplant when plants are 2.5-3” tall, and when you have had your last frost and the weather seems settled and warm.
If the weather is cold, just wait.
Pam transplants celery around the first week of May, after her last frost around April 30.
Celery plants need to be 6-12” apart.
Pam plants two rows in a bed, and positions the plants 12” apart in all directions, along the crown of the bed.
Pests and Diseases
Additionally, celery is an indicator crop for boron deficiency.
The most common pests are aphids, whiteflies, cutworms, tarnished plant bugs, and spider mites.
The most common diseases include fungal diseases Fusarium yellows, Rhizoctonia root and crown rot and leaf blights. Additionally, there is the virus disease celery mosaic.
Black heart or heart rot is a calcium deficiency caused by fluctuations in soil moisture.
It first shows up as brown leaf tips and quickly spreads to the heart of the plant, where soft bacterial rots enter.
Maintain adequate calcium levels and irrigate regularly to avoid this problem.
Caring For The Crop
The only care that healthy plants need, other than a good regular supply of water, is weeding.
If you have mulched the celery, just hand pull the weeds on sunny days and lay them on the mulch to die.
Because roots are shallow, any hoeing of unmulched celery should be done carefully.
Celery can be harvested one stalk at a time as soon as the stems look big enough, which can be 6 weeks after transplanting.
This can be useful for making up ‘stir-fry packs’ of mixed veggies.
To harvest individual stalks, bend the stalk out and down and twist off, or cut with a sharp knife being careful not to damage adjacent stalks.
Once the plants get big, they will start to grow side shoots, which can become full-size bunches in their own right.
Pam harvests by cutting out the central bunch with a knife, just above ground level, leaving the side shoots undisturbed for later harvesting.
It is best to aim to cut the central bunch from all of the celery plants by mid-July.
This helps the side shoots grow big and produce tender bunches for August, September, and October.
Pam trims off the leaves, although if they are in good condition they can make a tasty addition to soups or salads.
After harvesting, Pam stands their celery bunches in 5-gallon buckets and adds an inch of water before putting the buckets in a walk-in cooler.
It’s important to keep celery stalks well hydrated.
Season Extension and Overwintering
To keep outdoor celery going as long as possible, cover with large wire hoops and thick rowcover at the beginning of winter.
Although celery is cold sensitive in the spring, it is fairly tolerant in the fall.
It is hardy down to 25°F (-4.5°C).
Thick rowcover gives about 5°F (3°C) of protection and piling up straw or tree leaves around the plants also insulates them.
Pam digs up 12 mature plants in November and replants them in the hoophouse. They provide her with stalks and leaves right through the winter.
They don’t seem to suffer at all from being moved as large plants.
The celery can be planted very close together so that twelve plants only need a 3’ length of a 4’ wide bed.
Celery is an interesting plant to grow. If you can master the germination process, you are likely able to grow awesome celery plants!
We are not planning on growing celery this year on our market farm, but will definitely keep it in mind when we are more seasoned growers, as celery appears to require more experience than other vegetables.
Growing our own vegetables over winter is very intriguing to me, as I would like to grow our own and stay out of the grocery store all year long.
Enjoying celery from our own hoophouse in the winter sounds really good to me, so in the next couple of years or so, I will hopefully be writing an article on how we achieved year-round celery!
Do you grow celery on your market farm? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers