You may wonder whether it's worth it to grow celery in your garden. After all, it requires a long growing season and some babying, while the celery you can buy at the grocery store is usually pretty inexpensive. But conventionally grown celery is one of the Environmental Working Group's "dirty dozen" vegetables -- researchers have found more than 60 types of pesticides on conventionally grown celery. But organic celery isn't always available or realistic for our budgets. The solution: grow your own!
Where to Grow Celery
Celery grows best in areas with a fairly long growing season, but that aren't too hot, though you can try growing celery just about anywhere. In warmer areas, celery should be grown as a fall or winter crop.
Celery needs good, rich, moisture-retentive soil and full sun to partial shade to grow well. Add plenty of compost and well-rotted manure.
Start celery seeds indoors four to six weeks before your last spring frost date, in either cell packs or soil blocks. Celery seeds are notoriously slow at germinating (sometimes taking as long as two weeks to sprout), and, even once they germinate, seedling growth tends to be slow. Just keep watering and make sure they're warm (celery shouldn't be exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees, or it bolts. You wouldn't want all of your hard work go go to waste!) You can harden off and plant out once the weather is consistently above 40 degrees at night.
Celery should be planted ten to twelve inches apart.
Growing Organic Celery
The two biggest things to keep in mind when growing celery is that they like LOTS of water and LOTS of fertility. You'll want to water them regularly, never letting the soil dry out. Also, in addition to having planted them in rich soil, you'll want to feed them every three to four weeks with fish emulsion or compost tea.
If you want to blanch your celery stalks (make them white rather than all green) you can do this by either wrapping newspaper or burlap around each plant, or by placing boards on edge at each side of your row of celery, and holding the boards in place with garden stakes. Either of these methods will shade the stalks, which is what results in white, blanched, stalks of celery. You don't have to do this -- it will taste stronger than unblanched celery, but some people may prefer that.
Celery Pests and Problems
Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars can be a problem for celery (and all members of the carrot/parsley family). You can remove them by hand picking. Though, to be honest, I just leave them alone -- watching caterpillars is one of the advantages of having an organic garden! You can prevent caterpillar problems all together by growing your celery under a floating row cover.
Early blight and late blight of celery are both fungal diseases that start out as yellow spots on the leaves and petioles that then dry out. forming a tan/gray papery texture. They can best be prevented by cleaning celery plant residue from the garden and rotating your plantings. Infected plants should be pulled up and thrown away -- not composted.
Your celery can become tough and stringy in certain conditions: too hot, too dry, or too little fertility. Be sure to keep your plants well watered and fertilize them regularly.
Harvest celery by cutting the entire plant just below the surface of the soil. You can also harvest individual stalks by cutting them off at the base of the plant.
Recommended Celery Varieties
- 'Tendercrisp' -- an heirloom variety with excellent flavor.
- 'Tango' -- a self-blanching, heat-tolerant variety.
- 'Tall Utah' -- produces large plants with tightly-formed hearts.
- 'Golden Boy' -- an heirloom, self-blanching variety.