Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Celery and Friends

by Peter Kopcinski

I love celery. In my house no meal is complete without it. My wife will not make a soup without stealing the outer stalks from the celery that grows near the kitchen. Chicken stuffing is not complete without small, succulent pieces of celeriac, and I'm not even talking salads yet. I've been lucky enough to travel and learn how Europeans use celery, and as a seedsman and part-time breeder, I've grown celery -- lots of it.

Sowing and Harvest Timeline

Celery needs approximately three months as a seedling and three months in the garden. Gardeners living in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 10 can direct-sow seeds in November or December for a May or June harvest. If you live farther north or inland, plan to sow seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the average date of the last frost for your area.

Celery Choices

The standard American market celery is a Pascal type. These are listed in seed catalogs as 'Tall Utah' or 'Florida' strains, or simply as Pascal types. They were developed in response to the need for a celery resistant to heart-rot disease.

More recently, celery breeding has been directed toward tolerance to a new strain of the same disease, and most of these varieties are crosses with celeriac. These newest celeries, such as 'Peto 285', are even more disease tolerant, but their texture is tougher and the flavor is stronger so they aren't necessarily the best choice for the home gardener.

'Ventura' is a tall, upright grower with an attractive heart and is widely adapted. 'Utah 5270 R' (compact, thick stalks) and 'Utah 5270 HK' (uniform dark green) are both reselections of much older strains and have been available for at least two decades.

The second kind of celery is called "self blanching." These have slightly broader, more tender stalks and a natural pale yellow color. Varieties in this category are 'Golden Self-Blanching' (noted for earliness) and my favorite, 'Stokes Golden Plume' (early, with an attractive heart, blanches easily), which I believe is the best celery for home gardeners.

Growing Specifics

Celery is a cool-weather crop, preferring temperatures between 58° F and 80° F to do best. It needs rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.7. Most important, celery must have uniform moisture. Be prepared to use a good mulch on your crop.

Celery seed improves with age. In fact, you shouldn't plant seed that is less than three years old. There are two benefits to the older seed: Seed-borne leaf-blight diseases cannot survive that long, and with aging, the natural germination inhibitor in celery seed is overcome.

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