Kim has been gardening and growing her own food for over 27 years. She is a Master Gardener and loves to explore agricultural challenges.
The low down on Celery, getting started
So you like Celery. I like mine fresh with peanut butter, or added to stews and stuffings. I like the flavor, and I like it fresh. I really like growing my own. There's something comforting in knowing where your food came from, and it's really handy to walk outside and harvest it when you want it.
All parts of Celery are edible. The stalks we eat fresh, or chop for stews. The leaf parts are generally discarded but can be chopped and added to roasts, stews, and soups for flavoring, frozen or dried for use in winter. I give them to my chickens. The seed of Celery is a spice and can be saved and used as such.
Celery's growing conditions are unique and can be difficult to imitate. It prefers a long season of cool weather, average to high moisture with bright sunny days. Most of my garden self seeds and takes care of itself, not celery. In Montana our growing season is short and hot with drought conditions. Too much heat and celery bolts, that means, no celery.
So....in order to have fresh Celery, adjustments have to be made. There are very few places Celery will grow naturally without a little help from the gardener. After much trial and error, I discovered a sure fire method to garden fresh Celery.
With Celery, you need a plan. And you need to know when Spring is in your zone. Celery needs a LONG growing season without freezing. This means most of you will be starting it 3 months before you plant it out. Three months! But do not despair, it sounds way worse than it is. Celery is a slow grower and when three months is up and you are ready to plant out, they will be only 2-3" tall. I start mine in January and plant out when the weather is ready. While you wait for those seedlings to germinate and grow you can acquire some very important extras you are going to need.
Celery has needs, or it grows funny. It's stalks do not grow all cute like they are at the store. At least, not without help. There are lot's of different methods to "help" your celery, I found 2-liter bottles to be the sure fire way. Green ones were the best. The bottom and the top need to be cut off to form a tube. This tube will be placed over your celery after it has been transplanted to the garden. You will need as many tubes as you have seedlings.
First, you need to choose your celery. My first time growing celery I chose Tall Utah. It most resembles grocery store Celery. It's what we are "used" to. It's green, large, and packed full of flavor. But..... Did you know there were many types of Celery? Tall, short, fat, thin, red.....yes, red celery. And they all have a unique flavor.
Second, you will need a south east window where you can place your germinating tray for 3 MONTHS or a little more. And you will need a tray. My favorite germinating tray came with cream cheese croisants from costco..its bottom is 1 1/2" deep and black so it retains heat, it's lid is clear, perfect for allowing the sun to warm the seeds. Whatever tray you choose, make sure the lids snaps shut tightly.
When you are ready to start your seeds, fill your tray with a good organic seed starting medium. Do not use garden soil. A small bag is about $6 and you will have plenty leftover for another seed starting project later.
Sprinkle a few seeds over the medium. Do not sprinkle the whole packet, unless you want hundreds of baby celeries......you want to sprinkle about 3x what you expect to survive. So...if you want five celery plants, plant about fifteen seeds. If you have purchased your seeds from a reliable seed source, germination will be more than successful. I have had great luck from Baker Creek and Botanical Interests.
Water well, but do not soak. I love the kitchen sink sprayer for this. I can spray evenly over the surface of the medium. You want to dampen the seeds and medium.
Snap your lid on and place in the window. Forget about it. Come back in a few months.
Well on our way
The first time I started Celery I didnt have high expectations. Three months is a long time to germinate seeds. I found the tray of seedlings as I was cleaning out the basement window. I was surprised and pleased at the success rate. Hundreds of seedlings were happily growing in the tray.
Before transplanting outside, your seedlings need to be acclimated to outdoor conditions. They have been trapped in a protective container for months. They have not been exposed to fluctuating temperatures or winds. When seeds are started in the garden they are exposed to these conditions from birth so acclimating is unnecessary. Acclimating seedlings exposes them to outside conditions and reduces chance of shock.
Remove the lid and allow them a few hours in the sunny afternoon in the Spring air. Check the moisture of the subtrate before snapping the lid back on and returning them to the window. Removal of the lid and exposure to air will dry the subtrate quickly. Water the seedlings if needed. Repeat this process for several days. After several days of acclimating your seedlings will be ready to go lidless. You can start acclimating them to the outdoors slowly. You want to expose them to outside conditions when temp outside mimic inside temps.
During acclimation is a good time to start considering where to plant the seedlings. Keep in mind that Celery likes it long, cool, sunny days and average to high water.
Your seedlings should be about 3" tall when you place them in the garden. You want to choose a day when it is as warm outside, as it is inside.
When it is time to plant your seedlings out, water your tray generously, then use an old fork to gently remove one seedling at a time. Place the seedling in a prepared hole, not too deep. If you have extra seed starting mix, you can add some to the hole. Water each seedling well after transplant to encourage the roots to dig down into their new home. You want to space them about 8" apart. Use one of the 2-liter tubes to space your seedlings. Later, you will be placing the tubes over the celery plants.
Choose a planting spot. Celery likes LONG days, bright light, and average to cool roots. I am in Montana, so long days was not my problem, my problem was finding a cool place, not too hot. My first go around I had hundreds of seedlings so I could experiment freely with various locations throughout the yard. My happiest plants were grew on the East side of the home under the front windows. They received light first thing in the morning and by 1-2 pm were shaded from the direct sun and brutal heat we Montanans receive in Summer months.
The 2-liter bottles tubes you made are going to come into use now....celery needs to "blanch". Blanching is a means in which light is limited to alter the flavor slightly. The more chloroform your plant receives the more flavor it will have. Flavor differs from person to person. Celery can be "strong" in flavor, so if you are aiming for celery like you find at the grocery store, you will want to blanch it.
Blanching can be achieved in multiple ways. I found the 2-liter tubes were the easiest. Avoid using clear bottles, as the sun shines right through them and creates heat. Double wammo against celery and blanching. The green ones were my favorite. They allowed the perfect amount of light and did not increase the temperature.
When your seedlings have had a few weeks to grow outside and get good and strong, you will place the tubes over the seedlings. These bottle tubes will help our celery two-fold. First, it will force your celery to grow upright without tying your celery. If left to nature, your celery stalks will lay all over the place and grow in crazy directions. It will not look like "grocery store" celery. Second, it will blanch the stalks, for perfect celery flavor.
You want to place your tubes over the plants before they get to big and gangly, and while they are still manageable. If you wait too long and the plants get too big it will be a two man chore to feed the celery through the tube. Not an impossible task, but a task nonetheless.
Using and saving our harvest
So now that we have fresh garden grown celery, what do we do with it? When is it ready to harvest?
Celery is ready to harvest in mid to late Summer all the way to Fall but before it flowers and goes to seed. You can harvest your bounty throughout the Summer as you see fit.
In the Fall, before temperatures drop drastically, harvest whatever remains in the garden and process for winter. Celery can be used fresh, dried, or frozen. Any plants that bolted and went to seed can also be harvested, save the seed. If you are going to experience a freeze in your area and you haven't harvested your celery yet, cover it. You can extend your growing season using this approach and buy yourself extra time to get things done.
Fresh Celery is always best. So take advantage while you can. The first year I grew Celery I was blessed to be able to walk into the garden on Thanksgiving morning and gather Celery for my famous turkey stuffing.
Drying Celery is easy but not often done. Dice or slice the celery stalks and place on dehydrator trays. Leave space between pieces to allow for air circulation. Set your dehydrator to 125* and allow 12-24 hours drying time. All dehydrators are not equal, check your celery at 12 hours and adjust as necessary. When the celery is dry store in a glass jar. Label and date. Dried celery can be used throughout winter in any dish you would normal add celery.
Freezing Celery is super easy. Just dice or slice the celery and place in freezer bags or containers. Throughout winter you can add your frozen celery to soups and stews
Celery Seed is used to flavor soups, stews, stuffings, broths, gravies, and much much more. You can allow a plant to go to seed, or if a plant bolted before you got to harvest it, you can still collect the seed. Collect the seed in a paper bag and allow it a couple weeks to dry. If you place fresh seed directly into storage the water content in the seed will mold and rot. When the seed stems are brown and dry and the seed falls freely into the bottom of the bag they are ready for storage.
Finding complete information on growing Celery can be frustrating. I perused hundreds of pages and books before attempting this. In the end, I took all the information gleaned from these sources and put them to work.
Finding reliable seed can be daunting. Not all seed found at the store is equal. If the seed didn't fully develop it won't germinate. If it is stored incorrectly, it won't germinate. Many factors are involved. It's just easier to have a reliable source for seed. These are my go to companies for seed. Ordering is easy and secure, purchases arrive in a timely manner, and Germination is always successful.
Baker Creek https://www.rareseeds.com/search/?keyword=celery
Botanical Interests https://www.botanicalinterests.com/products/srch:Celery
One of my favorite backyard gardening books is Carrots love Tomatoes. You can get your copy here.
I never did find an all encompassing article or write up on Celery. The ones I did find made growing Celery seem very daunting, which, as it turns out, it's not.
Good Luck! And Happy Gardening!
© 2017 Kim French