What is a winter soup without celery? Or a salad or stew for that matter? The unassuming flavour of celery ‘lifts’ any dish without being overpowering, but when omitted, its subtle presence is certainly missed.
Celery (Apium graveolens) is not the easiest herb to grow, but it is definitely worth the effort and we gardeners are always up for a challenge, right…?
Celery is a cool weather biennial, cultivated as an annual, with a very long growing season, but it dislikes extremes in both cold and heat and herein lies the challenge.
Celery can be cultivated from seed during early spring and early autumn. Seed can also be sown indoors or in a hot house in early winter. Seeds need to be soaked for at least 12 hours to enhance germination. Add a good amount of sand to your germination mix. Because the seeds are so fine, they should be covered with only a fine layer of soil. Keep moist, thin them out if necessary and transplant either into pots or plant bags when the seedlings have 4 true leaves. Gradually bring the seedlings outside for longer periods every day until they are hardened off. To read more about sowing seeds click |HERE|
Mature celery seedlings and plants are also readily available in the vegetable and herb sections of Lifestyle Home Garden. This may a better option than sowing for us here on the Highveld with our very hot summers.
Plant the celery seedlings when all danger of frost has passed, which, in Gauteng, is usually at the beginning of September. A second crop can be planted in late summer to early autumn well before the winter frost.
The ideal planting place for celery is in a semi-shaded position that receives morning sun throughout the year, but not the hot afternoon sun.
Celery needs a rich, well-drained soil to flourish and a more sandy loam is preferred. Prepare the bed for planting in advance by digging the soil over to about the height of a spade’s blade and working in a generous amount of good quality compost and a water retention product according to instructions.
Plant the young celery plants 20-25cm apart in rows 35cm apart. The mature plant will grow to a height of about 65cm – keep this in mind when planning your beds. Water well and apply a layer of mulch.
Celery can also be planted in containers in a good quality potting soil mixed with water retention granules.
Some gardeners choose to blanch their celery stalks to make it more tender and sweet, but this is not essential and does reduce the nutrient content of the plant. Blanching can be done by tying the upper leaves together (about2 weeks before harvesting) and covering the stalks from top to bottom with sleeves made from newspaper. Certain varieties are also self-blanching.
Companion Planting is when herbs, flowers and veggies are interplanted to capitalise on the beneficial properties of each plant. For example a marigold will repel bugs from many vegetables. Growing a basil plant and allowing it to seed attracts beneficial pollinators. Growing nitrogen-rich peas enriches soil for accompanying plants.
GOOD COMPANIONS: Brassicas, leeks, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, spinach, spring onions, marigolds, beans, calendulas, pansies, violas and parsley.
BAD COMPANIONS: Maize
For more on Companion Planting click |HERE|
Consistency is the key to success – water frequently and keep the celery moist, but not waterlogged. Don’t allow the soil to dry out, especially if planted in containers. Replenish the layer of mulch on a regular basis to keep the soil moist and cool.
Celery are heavy feeders. Feed fortnightly with an organic water-soluble, nitrogen-rich fertiliser.
Harvest by cutting outer stalks of the celery as and when you need when they are about 40cm high, but still tender. This will encourage new growth. Harvest before the first frost in May or June.
Celery seed can be harvested during the second year after planting. If you keep the central stalk intact it will send out a lacy flower. After the petals drop the little seeds will appear. When the flower head is dry and the seeds have turned brown (good timing is essential) tie a brown paper bag around the flower head and cut the flower stalk. Remove all dry flower petals and leave the seeds in the bag until completely dry before storing them in a dry glass jar.
Both the stalks and leaves of celery can be chopped up and used to flavour soups, stews and salads. Longer pieces of stalks can also be served as crudités with a dip or used to stir your favorite Bloody Mary!
Celery is a very popular herb for a weight-loss diet as it is one of the best diuretics and detoxifiers and helps to reduce acidity in the body.
Celery seed has a wonderful taste and can be added to rubs and marinades or used when baking quiches and savory biscuits. It also adds a lovely flavour to pickles. If you follow a salt-free diet, use the seeds to make the following salt-free seasoning:
- 1 cup celery leaves and stems, chopped finely
- ½ cup celery seeds
- ½ cup crushed coriander seeds
- ½ cup fennel seeds
- ½ cup crushed mustard seeds
- ½ cup fresh thyme leaves
- ½ cup oregano leaves
Place all the leaves and stems on brown paper in a cool, dry place area to dry out. Turn daily. Ensure that all the seeds are also properly dried. When completely dry, mix with the seeds and store in a dry glass jar with a lid that screws on tightly. Use as is in all savory dishes, stews and soups, or pour some into a pepper grinder and use it over food in place of salt.
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