By Gwen Langan, Ace of Adams Lawn and Garden Enthusiast
Homegrown celery is juicy, full of flavor, and crunch and is one of my favorite garden snacks! The leafy tops are essential in fall and winter hearty soups and stews. As a frost-tolerant crop, it can be sown both in late winter/early spring for planting out just before the last spring frost and again around the summer solstice for a fall harvest.
Some gardeners find growing celery difficult because of its long growing season and sensitivity to soil moisture levels. I have found the most successful way to grow celery in our climate and sandy soils is to plant into a self watering planter such as an Earthbox. This way you can control the quality of the soil your celery grows in, as well as ensure that the soil remains consistently moist.
Beginning in late February or early March (10 to 12 weeks before our estimated last frost) I fill a small 4 inch pot with moistened seed starting mix, pressing down to make a firm base. I scatter the tiny celery seeds over the top and then press the seeds down gently so they make contact with the moist mix. I do not cover the seeds because they need light to germinate. Celery is one of those crops that really prefers to be warm to get started so I place the celery pot in an empty tray on a seed starting heat mat. I set up my grow light over the tray and set the timer for 12 hours on/off.
Be patient, celery can be a slow starter...I've had seeds take 3 weeks to germinate!
Transplant into biodegradable pots. These pots decompose when planted into your garden (or containers) and this prevents root disturbance with temperamental seedlings. Feed with a diluted fertilizer for seedlings.
Make sure you label your seedlings. Celery is in the same family as parsley, cilantro, carrots, dill and the other umbellifers; the seedlings can all look alike at this small stage. Many a gardener has sowed seeds or transplanted seedlings with the best intentions of remembering which is what and has forgotten by the time they go to plant out. I always use a uv resistant marker because the grow lights and later the sun fade regular permanent markers.
I plant 3 celery seedlings in an EarthBox Jr as I am the only one in my family who enjoys celery fresh, this is plenty for me to snack on all summer. My summer planting of 3 in a second EarthBox Jr is harvested as whole plants which are then sliced/chopped and dried or frozen for our fall and winter soups and stews.
In a classic EarthBox you can plant 6 celery which will be enough for snacking fresh all summer for a family of four. If you have a larger family or really enjoy fresh celery then plant a second box in the spring and a third in the summer for drying or freezing for fall/winter use.
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