Monday, February 8, 2010

Giant California Celery: The Ever Present Plants

My Oban Bay sweet peas were desperately in need of transplanting.  The area of interest was filled with celery plants which made their way there after a great escape from a 5 foot plant that went to seed about 10 feet away (down a path and around a corner!).  The celery made an enchanting green backdrop to the impatiens and primrose but they had to go. Since I'm not big on wasting plants, I knew this transplanting process would take some time.  I needed to transplant the celery so I could get the sweet peas in this tight area of about 5 inches wide and 1 1/2 feet long.  The task was not nearly as daunting as it was mind boggling.  How on earth so many celery plants could grow so large in such a small, tight area was a mystery.  By the time I finished, more than 60 plants were extricated from that one area and transplanted into cells.

Several weeks ago I stumbled into a garden neighbor who asked if my celery was like wood after me asking him if he'd like some celery plants for the garden.  Wood?  Now how on earth could his plants get woody when my plants (which received no attention whatsoever) were always green, tender, highly flavorful (almost too flavorful) and juicy? And my plants have been known to grow as tall as me - at just over 5 feet. Although it wasn't clear what variety he was growing, many people seem to have a rather difficult time sowing them from seed.  They're actually really easy to grow if you just plant them and forget about them.

Botanical Name: Apium graveolens
Plant Type:  Annual
Growing Zones:  Zones 3 - 8 (relative as I'm in zone 9 and they grow like weeds)
Hardiness:  Some frost; bolts in heat
Soil Preference:  Rich
PH Preference:  6 to 7
Fertilizer:  10-10-10
Water: Even moisture
Sun Requirements:  Full sun (although some recommend shade - mine have grown in both shade and sun)
Spacing:  8-12 inches apart

Once the seedlings emerge, they're generally extremely hardy and easy to transplant. In our gardens, they've been planted among other vegetables as well as flowers without any serious pest problems. Snails and slugs, when really hungry, will consume celery by taking slithering bites out of the plants.  But, they seem to enjoy the stalks more for hiding-and-resting more than anything else. Depending on how large the plants are allowed to grow, snails and slugs can often be found on the interior of the plants, at the base of the first few stalks.  This has even been an issue with earwigs. If harvested regularly while small, this is not an issue.  

The Giant California celery is very strong and one stalk can easily overpower a good pot of soup where the soup may normally call for 3 stalks chopped finely.  Plants have been known to last for months and months and months and act as a cut-and-come-again plant. While we're generally more than satisfied with just one plant, it becomes difficult to control if allowed to go to seed.  We've had plants materialize in the smallest of cracks in the ground (as a matter of fact, our 5 footer was grown in a crack where no soil existed outside that crack as it was surrounded by concrete along the parameter of the garden).  So, do be careful if you don't want them springing up all over your yard - especially if you're in a tropical climate.

Some recommend blanching the leaves of celery.  You will end up with celery that looks more like the kind you'll sometimes find in grocery stores.  While we never blanch ours, doing so is as easy as hilling up dirt around the stalks for a couple of weeks in Spring. I've even seen people cover plants with terracotta pots  or cardboard to blanch them.  Seems like much too much work to me.

Some heirloom varieties are:

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