Growing Celery May Be More Than You Bargained For
You won't see home gardeners growing celery for the most part. While celery has much going for it in terms of nutrition, it can be a bit of a challenge to grow, so most people don't. For that reason, celery seeds are not stocked by many seed stores, and nurseries that do sell celery often sell them as seedlings, and not seeds.
A Healthy Vegetable - If you're one of those gardeners though that likes a challenge, and you happen also to like the vegetable, and then growing celery may be just the thing for you. Celery is one of those foods called a negative calorie food, which sounds a little bit like a perpetual motion machine. Celery is very low in calories however, and since digesting it takes as much or more energy than it contains, it is deserving of the negative calorie classification. Celery is also high in dietary fiber, several vitamins, including A, C, and B6, potassium, manganese, and phosphorous. The only negative is the vegetable is a little high in salt. It is a good healthy food though, and an excellent one for maintaining optimum weight, or as part of a weight loss diet. Celery seeds are supposed to have many healthful benefits as well, but for the most part these claims have yet to be proven. The seeds do contain volatile oils which are effective in repelling mosquitoes.
Climate Is Important - Climate is the primary challenge you're apt to face in growing celery. If you live in an area characterized by a long, cool, and somewhat moist growing season, you'll have the best chance of getting in a good crop. Such a climate typically does not experience late or early frosts, which is another plus, as the plant does not tolerate frost well. Tall Utah is a good variety to start with when available; otherwise get whatever is on the market for your first attempt at growing the vegetable. Planting seedlings would be the easiest, but if you have a place you can start seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, you'll want to start them 8 to 12 weeks before setting the seedlings outside. Whether starting from seedlings or transplanting the plants you started from seed, set them out 6 to 12 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart. Celery is a slender plant standing from 24 to 36 inches tall. It has between 3 and 5 segmented leaves.
Set the plants out once the daytime temperature is steadily above 50 degrees F. If there are too many cold days initially, with temperatures in the lower 40's, your crop may bolt prematurely and you'll end up with celery seeds instead of celery stalks. When you set the plants out, place them in a location that will get at least 6 hours of sun a day. The soil needs to be rich and well drained. If you have access to wood ashes, mix them into the soil to enrich the soil's potassium content. The plants will do best if watered with a fish fertilizer solution when transplanted. Some experienced celery growers will tell you that seaweed extract is helpful as well towards ensuring a good crop. If you can find some, get it.
The seedlings should be mulched to keep them moist and also to keep weeds at bay. Covering the ground between the rows with plastic mulch will also help to keep insects away. While the plants are growing, it's a good idea to feed them monthly with a manure solution (called "manure tea" by some). You can either look up instructions on making manure tea or simply mix a little manure with water and apply it around the plants. When the plant gets large enough to harvest, and you can be the best judge of that, you can harvest them a plant at a time, or a stalk at a time, as you wish.
The main pest affecting celery is the aphid, and they can usually be washed off with a light spray, or a solution of detergent and water. Good companion plants for celery include leeks, bush beans, cabbage, tomatoes, and cauliflower.
If you have success growing celery and want to do it again next year, plant in a slightly different location. Rotating the celery crops will help avoid blight.