CELERY – May
with its high water and fibre content, celery is an
Celery is one of the crops that home gardeners say they have difficulty growing, but if you plant at the right time of year, add the right nutrients to the soil and most importantly have sufficient water, you should be successful. If you don’t blanch your celery, it won’t look like store-bought celery, so it may just be a matter of adjusting your expectations.
« Celery is a marsh plant and
thrives with constant watering.
Winter is therefore the ideal season to grow it. If your stalks are dry or hollow and stringy, it’s due to water and nutrient stress.
Celery likes a soil that’s slightly alkaline with a pH of between 6 and 7. It also likes lots of calcium and magnesium so an application of Dolomite lime (a calcium magnesium carbonate) will add both minerals to your soils. Epsom salts is good for raising magnesium levels.
Plant celery plants at least 30 cms apart to create good air circulation among the plants. This helps keep fungal diseases, like rust which it’s prone to, at bay.
The best companion plant for celery is nasturtium, so we recommend planting Nasturtium officinale (or Watercress) round your celery plants. Celery doesn’t like weeds which compete for nutrients in the soil, and watercress rambles and suppresses weeds.
After planting, feed the soil with well-composted chicken poo (or any other animal manure like sheep pellets) which gives the plants a nitrogen boost and a good dressing of volcanic rock dust which is high in calcium and magnesium.
Finally we recommend a layer of compost which acts as a mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Celery is a shallow-rooted plant so having these nutrients near the surface of the soil means the plants’ roots can readily access them.
Water it all in well. After a couple of weeks, give your plants a feed of liquid fish fertiliser. Continue to feed with an animal manure or fish fertiliser every 3 weeks or so during the growing season.
Celery bunches can be harvested whole after around 14 weeks by cutting them at the base with a sharp knife, or you can harvest individual stalks by carefully pulling them from the base as you need them. This extends the harvest season. Celery stores well in the fridge.
If you want tender, lighter-coloured stalks, then blanching produces this. When plants are a decent size (close to harvesting), tie the stalks together loosely with a soft tie, then wrap the stems with thick newspaper, leaving the leaves sticking out at the top. The stalks will be pale and ready to harvest in around 2-3 weeks. The only thing with blanching is you’re creating the perfect environment for slugs and snails to hide in. That’s the main reason why organic gardeners don’t favour blanching, but it’s worth a try.
Slugs and snails are the main problem for celery plants in any case. Use yeast traps or upturned pots with scrunched-up newspaper in them. See here for how to make slug and snail traps.
Much less demanding is Cutting Celery. It’s quite a good idea to have one or two cutting celery plants in with your regular celery. Cutting Celery looks similar to flat-leaf parsley and you eat the leaves as well as the stalks. Cutting Celery grows to about 800mm² and fed and watered well will last 10-12 months in your garden. The biggest bonus is, it doesn’t succumb to rust.
250g celery, chopped
100 grams onion, diced
100 grams potato, diced
1 litre chicken stock*
salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add celery and onion. Cover and stew gently for up to 10 minutes. Add the potato and stir to coat well. Be careful not to let the vegetables brown.
Add the stock. Bring the soup to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for around 20 minutes.
Puree in a blender. If the celery is particularly stringy you might like to pass it through a sieve. Taste and add salt if necessary – you won’t need much, if any, as celery is a delicate taste and you don’t want to spoil it. A grind of black pepper, however, is an improvement.
Serves four as a light lunch or as an entrée.
* Use a whole chicken to make beautiful chicken stock – Sally Fallon’s ‘Nourishing Traditions’ has a good recipe.