Celery has a reputation of being difficult to grow, but I’ve not had any problems with growing it. In fact, the picture above is my I-refuse-to-die celery that grew from roots I threw into the compost pile last fall. I just can’t kill it! Nor would I want to. Celery from the garden tastes nothing like what you buy in the grocery store. It’s greener, stronger in flavor, and contains more nutrition – and that’s always a good thing! Consider growing celery in your garden this year.
Celery’s scientific name is Apium graveolens var. dulce and is part of the Apiaceae family, along with dill, parsley, fennel, cilantro, and carrots. Most historians believe that celery originated in the Mediterranean basin thousands of years ago. The Egyptians put it into their tombs, and the Greeks wore necklaces made from it. However, celery was not originally eaten as a vegetable, but was used for medicinal purposes, as a flavoring herb, or to feed the horses. It wasn’t until the 1600s in France that celery was actually eaten.
The English word “celery” derives from the French celeri and the Italian seleri, both from the Latin selinon. It was the Italians who were the first to find ways to blanch celery plants to lesson the strong, bitter taste. (See below for details on blanching.)
With minimal calories, celery is high in fiber and nutrition. Based on the daily recommended amount, one eight inch stalk of celery contains 15% Vitamin K; 4% each folate and Vitamin A; 3% potassium; and 2% each Vitamin C, calcium, and manganese.
Celery will grow in zones 2-10 in fertile (compost-filled) soil with a 6.0-7.0 pH in full to part sun. It is a heavy feeder and needs constant moisture (equivalent of one inch of rain per week).
There are two ways to grow celery – from seed or from cuttings. Without a doubt, growing celery from seed will give you much more choices as to the variety you plant. If you choose to grow celery from seed, sow seed indoors 8-10 weeks before your last frost. Soak seed overnight in warm water then sow 1/4 inch deep and one inch apart in flats with compost and sand. Cover flats with damp sphagnum moss or burlap until the seeds sprout, and keep out of direct sunlight in a room with day temperatures of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit, and night temperatures around 60 degrees. When the sprouts are two inches tall, transplant them to their own containers. After the last frost, harden off the seedlings over the course of ten days before transplanting into the garden.
As May is rather late for most of you to be starting celery from seed, you can still grow celery this season by using cuttings, which is what I do. Buy celery at the grocery store or farmer’s market, and cut off the bottom of the stalk. Rather than throw it away, place it in a container with about an inch of water (cut side up). Keep near a sunny window, but not in direct sunlight. Be sure the container doesn’t dry out! Soon you will see new celery stalks growing from the center.
When the new stalks are about four inches tall, you can transplant them into the garden. I don’t think the cuttings need to be hardened off. I’ve never done it, and they’ve grown fine.
Whether you grow from seed or from cuttings, when you transplant the celery into your garden, be sure to mulch them well to maintain moisture. Fertilize them every 10-14 days with compost tea or organic fertilizer. Also, be sure to water them well, else the stalks will be small and dry. You may also want to tie the stalks together to keep them from sprawling. I didn’t do that last year, but I might try it this year.
If you’ve never tasted celery straight from the garden, you’ll notice it is much stronger than what you buy in the store. If you prefer the lighter taste of store-bought celery, you can blanch your celery before harvesting.
You can start harvesting your celery in about 90 days, once the stalks are about eight inches long. Cut outer stalks first, and work your way in. Last year, I grew five plants from cuttings, and I had celery all season long! Your plants will last until the first fall frost. For the final harvest, I cut the entire plant at the soil line and threw the root into the compost pile. (And then it grew again, so I’m harvesting from the compost pile while my new cuttings are growing in my raised beds.)
Celery will keep fresh in the refrigerator for two weeks if wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or sealed in airtight baggies. For an abundant harvest, you can dehydrate the stalks and store in mason jars.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN:
Celery is great to munch fresh, especially with peanut butter (or cream cheese). It can be chopped up in salads or added to soups to increase flavor. But it shouldn’t be relegated to just a minor ingredient in a bigger recipe. Here are some dishes that highlight celery as the main ingredient.
Any way you grow it or eat it, celery is a win in the garden!