Today, we’re talking about a plant that looks like both celery and a turnip, namely the celery root. This plant is an excellent vegetable to cultivate in the home garden. The main part of this plant that is consumed is its large, crisp root, which has a sweet taste. This type of celery stores its reserves of nutrients, such as vitamins and trace elements, in this root. The cultivation of celery root is widespread in Central European countries. In these areas, the plant is appreciated for its hardiness, ease of cultivation, and long storage period. However, this plant also boasts an ancient tradition in our country, worth rediscovering. Moreover, this plant can be cultivated anywhere, as long as the appropriate cultivation techniques are followed.
Let’s get to know this particular vegetable better.
Botanical Identification and Characteristics of celery root
Celery root (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum) is a plant belonging to the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. The more well-known celery varieties, such as leaf celery and stalk celery, belong to the same species. The main difference between classic celery and celery root lies in the root, which, for the latter, represents the edible part. The root consists of a large, globular-shaped ball with a white-yellowish exterior. The inner pulp is not too hard, has a delicate taste, and is light white in color. It’s quite similar to that of kohlrabi cabbage. In addition to this large main root, the plant also develops secondary adventitious roots. These are thin, shallow roots used to anchor it to the ground. In celery root, the above-ground part consists of a cluster of leaves entirely similar to those of leaf celery but smaller in size. Celery root is also a biennial plant, meaning it develops flowers and seeds in the second year of its life. In gardens, it is cultivated following an annual cycle; let’s see how.
Cultivation of celery root
Celery root has a fairly long growing cycle; it takes 5-6 months from sowing to the enlargement of the root. It withstands high temperatures well, provided it has constant irrigation during the warmer months. Sowing begins from late February until April. Harvesting is done in autumn. In regions with mild winters, sowing can also occur in August-September, with harvesting in early spring. One of its peculiarities is its excellent ability to store once harvested (for up to 4 months). The important thing is to keep the large roots in a dark, dry place, perhaps under sand. It is commonly believed that the taste of celery root improves after a period of cool storage.
Celery root seeds can be sown directly or using the seedbed technique. It’s important to note that the seeds have a long germination period and slow initial growth. Therefore, direct sowing in the field can be done in March-April when temperatures do not drop below 10 °C. If you want to sow earlier, in February, use a polystyrene seedbed or small pots with a diameter of 6-8 cm. In February, the seedbed should be protected from low temperatures, perhaps using a small balcony greenhouse (like this one). Approximately 45 days after sowing in the seedbed, the plants will be ready for transplantation in the field. We recommend trimming the leaves and leaving the collar slightly above the ground. For those sowing directly in the soil in spring, it’s advisable to thin out the plants, keeping them 20 cm apart.
Soil and Fertilization
Celery root prefers medium-textured soils, fresh and deep, with a good supply of mature organic matter and a neutral pH. Sandy soils, which give an unpleasant taste, and clayey and compact soils should be avoided. The latter can cause water stagnation and be the cause of fungal diseases. Overly compact soil also makes it difficult for the root to enlarge. Fertilization should be carried out well in advance using mature manure, without exceeding the quantities. Three organic alternatives to mature manure are pelletized manure (available here), earthworm humus (available here), and home compost (which you can make at home). For proper growth, the presence of phosphorus and potassium is crucial. In organic farming, wood ash can be used to provide these nutrients. The absence of organic matter and nutrients results in poor-quality produce.
Irrigation and Weed Control
As mentioned, adequate water supply is essential in celery root cultivation, especially in the summer months. Therefore, it’s advisable to install a drip irrigation system. The soil should always be well-moistened, but care should be taken not to cause waterlogging. Equally important is the removal of weeds, especially in the early stages of plant growth. Weeds compete for water and nutrients, which celery root tolerates poorly. To keep the plants clean, manual weeding can be done or a layer of natural mulch can be used. The latter not only prevents weed growth but also keeps the soil moist.
Biological Pest and Disease Control
Celery root is a robust plant, resistant to adversities and pests. Among fungal diseases, it is most susceptible to septoria leaf spot, which manifests as dark spots with yellow edges on the leaves. In severe cases, the leaves die, and the plant withers. To prevent septoria leaf spot in celery root, it’s essential to avoid water stagnation, select quality seeds, and implement appropriate rotations (avoiding planting the same crop in the same soil for at least 2 years). Regarding pests, attention should be paid to the presence of the celery fly, Philophylla heraclei. In case of an infestation, this insect can be controlled using neem oil. The celery fly attacks the plant by burrowing galleries in the stems, which are then emptied. Monitoring its presence can also be done using chromotropic traps.
Varieties of Celery Root
Let’s now look at the main varieties of Celery Root that can be cultivated in the home garden.
- Celery Root from Verona: a variety with an extensive above-ground part. Its root represents 55% of the plant’s total weight. It’s a typical Italian variety, with a white and firm pulp, having a very pleasant and distinct taste. It shows low susceptibility to septoria leaf spot.
- Cisko and Monarque: Dutch varieties with a limited leafy part and moderate susceptibility to septoria leaf spot. The root is moderately sized and more elongated than Italian varieties, with a milder taste.
- Rowena: a variety with more vigorous leaves than the previous varieties. The root’s weight has a higher impact on the plant’s total weight and has a roundish shape. Overall, the plant has moderate susceptibility to septoria leaf spot.
Other well-known varieties include:
- Giant of Prague
- Market of Magdeburg
Properties and Culinary Uses
Celery Root consists of 90% water and has very few calories (20 kcal per 100 g). For this reason, it’s highly recommended in low-calorie diets. It’s a diuretic and purifying vegetable, containing carbohydrates, proteins, few fats, and plenty of fibers (source). The roots are rich in vitamins, particularly vitamin K, which is important for bones and blood clotting. It also contains minerals like iron, potassium, and manganese. For individuals taking anticoagulant medication, consulting a healthcare provider before consumption is advisable. Celery Root has a unique taste and is used not only to add aroma to dishes but also as a primary ingredient in a recipe. For instance, it can be consumed raw in salads (sliced or grated). It can also be baked, steamed, fried and pan-breaded, boiled, and stewed.