Friday, 13 March 2015 19:21

How does Celery grow?

Did you know a garland of celery leaves was found in King Tut's tomb?

  • Latin Name:

    Apium graveolens

  • Growth:

    USDA Hardiness Zones 2-10 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

    Celery is a long-season crop that is grown in the summer in the north and in the winter in the south. Some gardeners say it’s the most challenging vegetable to grow because it has a very low tolerance for both heat and cold - and it is also very drought intolerant.

    Celery requires proper soil, fertilization and constant moisture. Failing to keep it constantly moist results in a harvest with poor taste. Because the plant has a long maturity period, it is best suited for areas with long growing seasons. In northern areas where it’s a summer crop, it should be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost date.

    A member of the parsley family, celery is available in two types:  stalk celery and celeriac celery (Apium graveolens var rapaceum). Stalk celery varieties are more commonly found in North America, where crunchy stalks are a popular snack. In Europe, celeriac celery is cultivated for its edible root, or celery “bulb,” and leaves that are used as a seasoning.

    Due to the length of its growing season and sensitivity to weather conditions, celery is grown both as an annual and and as a biennial crop depending on the region. 

  • Propagation:

    Celery is propagated by seed.

    Celery plants produce large amounts of edible seed, and reseed easily in warmer climates where plants survive through the winter.

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  • Harvest:

    Celery is harvested when stalks are about eight inches tall. It is cut just below the soil line, or single stalks can be cut as needed, beginning at the outside of the plant and working inward.  

    Another method of harvesting is to pull the entire plant out of the soil.

    The darker the stalks become, the higher their nutritional value; however, they also become tougher and more bitter.

    If soil is built up around the base of the plant to cover and maintain the temperature around the stalks, celery can remain in the ground for up to one month.

    Commercial growers use a combination of manual labor and mechanical harvesters - or mechanical harvesters only - to pick their crops.

  • Storage:

    Celery that has been cut from the plant can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

    If plants have been pulled whole from the soil with their roots, they can be preserved by putting them in a deep box with the roots covered by moist sand or soil. Stored in a cool place in this manner, celery can keep for two or more months.

  • History:

    Celery is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean basin. The plant grows wild in wet areas throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and in the Himalayas. It is also believed that the plant selinon, mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey (circa 850 BCE) is the same plant as celery. Today the plant’s common name, celery, is derived from the French celeri, which is a derivation of the ancient Greek selinon.

    In ancient Greece, celery was considered a holy plant. Athletes who won the Nemean games, similar to the Olympics, wore garlands of celery leaf. Evidence of a celery garland was found in the tomb of King Tut, as well as other ancient Egyptians.

    Celery was used medicinally in its early history. During ancient times, ayurvedic physicians used celery seed to alleviate arthritis, digestive disorders, water retention, liver and spleen ailments, the flu and the common cold.

    It was not until the 1600s CE, in France, that celery was first cultivated as a garden vegetable. Shortly afterward, Italians introduced the blanching process, which makes celery less bitter and more palatable to taste. Celery is blanched in the sense of keeping sunlight off the growing stalks in order to maintain their tenderness and taste - not in the sense of quickly “blanching” in hot water for other reasons. Celeriac celery, the variety grown for its edible roots and leaves rather than stalk, was developed in the 1600s as well.

    Celery seeds first arrived in the United States in 1850, when they were brought to Kalamazoo, Michigan from Scotland by a man named George Taylor. Kalamazoo became the “Celery Capital” of the United States, a title it held until a blight in the 1930s wiped out production. Today, California is the leading celery producer in the nation, followed by Michigan.

  • Top Producers:

    (No international data available).

    In the United States, California and Michigan are the top celery-producing states. In 2011, they produced a combined $457 million in celery harvests (agmrc.org).

  • Varieties:

    Popular varieties of stalk celery include: Pascal Giant, Utah, Alfina, Conquistador, Golden Yellow, Golden Self-Blanching, and Red Celery.

    Popular varieties of celeriac celery include: Giant Prague, Brilliant, President, and Mentor.

  • Products:

    Stalk celery is the more popular celery variety in North America, where it is grown as a vegetable for its stalk. It is eaten raw, and has a versatile flavor to complement dips such as ranch dressing, hummus or peanut butter. Celery is also used as an ingredient in soups, chicken and tuna salads, casseroles, among others.

    Celeriac celery is more common in Europe, where the plant is grown for its leaves and seeds, used as spices, and its root. It can be sliced into salads, cubed in soups, sliced and roasted into “celery chips,” roasted with potatoes, made into a “mash,” and more.

  • Top Health Benefits:

    The crunch of biting into a stalk of fresh celery is satisfying in itself, but combined with the health benefits it offers, celery is a superstar.

    It is a good source of antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and beta-carotene - but it’s the lesser-known phytonutrients that really stand out. A unique combination of flavonols, flavones, phenolic acids and other phytonutrients found in celery have been shown, in animal studies, to minimize oxidative damage to blood vessels and body fats.

    Because of the ability of its phytonutrients to combat oxidative stress and inflammation, celery is currently being explored for its cancer-preventive possibilities.

    Studies have shown celery juice and celery extracts to be effective in lowering the activity of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and other messaging molecules responsible for unwanted inflammation in the body.

    Pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery, such as apiuman, provide anti-inflammatory benefits specific to the stomach. In animal studies, celery extracts have been shown to help reduce the risk of stomach (gastric) ulcers.

    Pectin-based polysaccharides are also being explored by researchers for their possible benefits in decreasing inflammation in the circulatory system.

    Phthalides, yet another category of phytonutrients found in celery, may act as smooth muscle relaxants. By helping the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels to relax, phthalides play a role in vasodilation (relaxation and expansion of the blood vessels), which helps to lower blood pressure.

    Phthalides also stimulate the secretion of bile juices, which help the body eliminate bad (LDL) cholesterol levels.

    Benefits from the high fiber content of celery help manage diabetes.

    Because of its low calorie content and high fiber content, celery is a good weight loss snack. The high fiber content allows for a feeling of fullness, reducing the tendency to overeat.

    Some research indicates that celery seed, celery oil, or celery extract (not the vegetable itself) may act as a diuretic, which also helps to lower blood pressure. As a diuretic, celery can also help lower uric acid levels (related to arthritis inflammation), assist in the prevention of urinary tract infections, and aid with bladder disorders and kidney problems.

  • Grow it yourself:

    In most areas, celery seeds should be started indoors 8 to 10 weeks prior to the last frost date of spring.

    If planting celery for a winter harvest (in southern regions), direct-sow seeds in late summer, when daytime summer temperatures average 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be planted ¼ inch deep and thinned to 10 to 12 inches apart once they reach six inches in height.

    Whether starting indoors or direct sowing, soak seeds overnight prior to planting to speed germination time.

    Prior to planting, prepare soil by working in a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer or compost. Celery is a heavy feeder, and requires large amounts of nutrients throughout its lifetime to thrive.

    When starting seedlings indoors, they need to be “hardened” prior to transplanting. To do this, reduce watering slightly and place seedlings outdoors for a couple of hours each day for 7 to 10 days prior to transplanting.

    Seedlings that are approximately six inches tall and have five or more leaves are ready for the hardening process.

    When transplanting seedlings to an outdoor bed, plant 10 to 12 inches apart. Mulch and water directly after planting. Keep soil continuously moist.

    To keep stalks tender, they can be "blanched" by wrapping newspaper around them below the leaves in the last weeks of their growth.

  • Interesting Facts: