Cultivating Celery is a common practice among home gardeners. The plant is one of the most used and versatile herbs in cooking. It can be consumed as it is, in a simple salad, but it can also flavor soups, stews, and more. Celery cultivation takes place at various times of the year, but generally extends from spring to late autumn. Let’s see the characteristics of different varieties, which are mainly distinguished between leaf celery and stalk celery.
Furthermore, let’s learn about the main cultivation practices to harvest and enjoy healthy and flourishing plants.
Botanical Overview of Celery
Celery (Apium graveolens dulce) is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. This same family includes plants like fennel and carrot. Within the species Apium graveolens dulce, there are both leaf celery varieties and stalk celery varieties. Another species is Apium graveolens rapaceum, which is celeriac or celery root, to which we will dedicate a separate article. In general, this plant is of Mediterranean origin with an ancient tradition. It was used for medicinal purposes and is even mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey.
Characteristics of Apium graveolens L.
Cultivating celery requires a biennial cycle, although it can be annual in home gardens.
The plants have extensive taproots that develop deep into the ground and are usually thick and fleshy.
The leaves are compound and pinnate, with very long leaf stalks (petioles or stalks). These stalks are sometimes hollow inside, but mostly they are solid and fleshy.
All parts of the plant, particularly the leaves, petioles, and seeds, are known for their pleasant aroma and intense, distinctive flavor.
The most commonly used parts are the leaves and stalks. Depending on the variety and the predominant growth of one of these parts, we distinguish between leaf celery and stalk celery.
Leaf celery is also called cutting celery or leaf celery. It includes common varieties like “sedanino”. These plants are quite vigorous and very hardy. The leaves are rather small, green, similar to those of parsley, with underdeveloped stalks. These varieties have the ability to regrow rapidly after cutting, providing multiple harvests.
Stalk celery is the most widespread and cultivated variety of this plant. It can be further divided into green-stalked celery and white-stalked celery.
Green-stalked celery is very vigorous and productive, with thick and fleshy green stalks.
Its main varieties include:
- A canna piena, with wide leaves and vigorous stalks, intensely aromatic, and flavorful. It is an easy-to-cultivate variety suitable for various uses.
- Pascal, with very developed fleshy stalks that are resistant to winter frost.
- Piemontese, with thickened stalks that turn pink during the winter months. It’s a rustic variety resistant to frost.
These have lighter-colored stalks, very fleshy yet simultaneously crisp and tender.
The main varieties of this type of Apium graveolens L. are:
- Precosissimo verga d’oro, known for its broad, very white stalks. Suitable for both spring and autumn cultivation.
- Dorato Chemin, a fairly early variety with tender, crisp stalks. Very hardy and better suited for autumn cultivation.
- Gigante di Castelnuovo Scrivia, a very vigorous variety with large clumps and thick, fleshy stalks. It can be cultivated even in winter.
How to Cultivate Celery
Celery can be cultivated at various times of the year. In general, it is sensitive to excessive heat and water scarcity, as well as intense frost without protection. Therefore, the best seasons for this cultivation are spring and autumn.
Sowing and Transplanting Period
For cultivating celery from seeds, the technique of seedbed is useful. Special attention should be given to seed germination, which is slow and requires a constant temperature of around 18-20°C. Sowing should only be done when environmental conditions are suitable, which is not always possible. For this reason, it’s preferable to use and transplant pre-formed seedlings from a nursery, grown at a controlled temperature.
This plant is transplanted outdoors from late February to April for spring-summer harvest. It is also transplanted from August to October for autumn-winter harvest. The ideal transplanting distance for stalk celery is about 30 cm between plants. For leaf celery, a shorter distance of about 20 cm can be maintained.
Soil and Fertilization
Cultivating celery requires suitable soil. Being a demanding crop in this regard, loose, fertile, and well-prepared soil is ideal. Therefore, it’s recommended to fertilize before transplanting, using organic fertilizers like worm humus (available in this stores) or well-rotted manure (available here).
Irrigation and Mulching
Celery cultivation has significant water requirements, so if there’s no rain, irrigation is necessary. In this regard, the most effective system is undoubtedly a drip irrigation system. Lack of water can cause celery to become tough and lose its natural crispness. To minimize irrigation interventions, it’s advisable to position this plant in the shadier areas of the garden. This is a preferred position for the plant, especially in spring and summer cultivations. To reduce irrigation needs and protect the plant from weeds, it’s recommended to use natural mulching. If mulching is not used, cultivating Apium graveolens L. becomes more labor-intensive as the plant requires frequent weeding. Weeding is necessary because weeds compete for nutrients and limit the plant’s growth.
Blanching the Stalks
A critical operation for cultivating stalk celery is blanching, a technique we’ve already discussed when talking about smooth-leaved endive. Blanching is necessary to obtain a tender and crispy quality product. It also ensures a perfect white-gold color in the inner stalks. Tying the tops of the plants with an elastic band or a light string helps with blanching. Earthing up the soil around the plant also aids in blanching. This operation should be carried out in advance, about 15-20 days before the planned harvest.
Organic Pest Defense
A celery cultivation can be susceptible to attacks by various pests, depending on the season. In spring, the main risk comes from aphids, which can be prevented using a garlic infusion or nettle infusion. If infestation has already occurred, soft potassium soap can be used, which is an effective product available here. If the cultivation extends into the summer months, the main risk is from whiteflies. This pest is monitored and combated primarily using chromotropic traps, available in specialized shops. In autumn, the most common pests for this plant are snails and slugs, which are fond of the leaves. For organic control of these mollusks, you can refer to the specific article.
- Planta medica: “Gastric antiulcer, antisecretory and cytoprotective properties of celery in rats” – This article discusses the potential of this plant in treating gastric ulcers, its antisecretory properties, and its cytoprotective effects.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2014: “Chemistry, Technology, and Nutraceutical Functions of Apium graveolens L.: An Overview” – The review provides insights into the nutritional benefits and health implications of bioactive compounds found in this plant.
- Traditional Herbal Medicine, 2015: “A review on medicinal plant of Apium graveolens” – This comprehensive review emphasizes the importance of this plant in traditional medicine, discussing its various medicinal properties and potential health benefits.
- International Journal of Chemical and Biochemical Sciences: “Value added products, chemical constituents and medicinal uses of Apium graveolens L.–A review” – The article provides an overview of the various medicinal uses of this plant, its chemical constituents, and the value-added products derived from it.