Celery and all its friends
Celery is an overlooked vegetable for your garden because celery is so widely available, inexpensive and more challenging to grow than most vegetables. Maybe you’ll change your mind after reading this, and grow one or more of the celery-flavored plants.
After an educational program in May, Nancy Reynolds (a master gardener) shared a fun way to grow your own celery by using a portion of an existing celery stalk. Simply cut off the bottom 3 inches of the entire stalk of celery and place it in a shallow bowl of water. Watch for about a week and you will begin to see new shoots coming out the top. When the shoots reach about 3 inches you transfer the stalk to the garden. Bury the stalk into the soil up to the level of the new shoots. Watch your new stalk of celery grow. You can continue this process on each stalk of celery for the entire summer. A fun idea and great recycling tip.
Celery is a cook’s best friend, used in a mixture known by its many names such as mirepoix, refogado, soffritto or the holy trinity. It’s basically a mixture of celery, carrots and onions. Sometime it is cooked in butter, olive oil, and can have garlic or leeks added. It is the base of many soups, stocks and sauces around the world.
The taste of fresh celery out of the garden will have a slightly different taste than you are used to, so you may need some experimentation with your favorite recipes. The taste will also be different depending on varieties. It tends to have a stronger taste of celery, unlike the blanched light green type you have in the grocery store.
Celery grown in your garden will not resemble the light green stalks that you buy at the grocery store. They will be a much darker color, could have hints of red or be a medium shade of green. The one thing about celery in the garden is that you can pick a stalk at a time and use as needed. This idea also extends the use of your celery for a longer period. The plant will not mind that you pick as needed, it will remain in the garden. The time frame for growing from seed is 80 to 100 days depending on variety. Celery requires lots of water and loose moist soil with a supply of nutrients.
They will do best in a raised bed that has been amended with organic compost. Pick a spot in the garden that can be shielded from the hot afternoon sun, like on the north side of climbing vines such as cucumber, beans or peas. You can use a row cover to extend your harvest into the early winter months. You’ll need to harvest the entire plant by cutting off at ground level before the temperatures falls into the teens.
If growing celery sounds like too much work for you, you can try some celery substitutes that pack a punch of flavor. Celeriac (Apium graveolens) is also known as celery root or turnip rooted celery. The celeriac stalks are not meant to be eaten, since they have a strong, bitter taste. The root grows below the ground but will extend above the ground level. The taste is a sweeter, nuttier and a no-string version of celery. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Celeriac is wonderful as a replacement for mashed potatoes, or mixed with them for an added flavor. Like celery it requires a long growing season. It can take up to 110 days, so seeds must be started indoors to get a jump start in your garden. The requirements for soil, nutrients and water are the same as for celery.
Cutting celery, a variety of Apium graveolens, is often called soup celery. It has been around for a while but has recently hit the market with a new popularity. The cutting celery develops into a fountain shaped plant with stems topped with fresh scented leaves that have an unmistakable celery flavor. The nice feature of this plant is that it can be placed in the vegetable garden, herb garden or grown in a container. Cutting celery can withstand temperatures down to about 20 degrees, so this is a good candidate for long season crop. Placed in a cold frame or covered with row cover, you can be cutting it into the winter.
Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a vigorous perennial herb that provides another alternative to celery. It’s been called celery on steroids. Unlike cutting celery, lovage will need some room to grow. It is not a member of the same family as the other celeries, but the flavor is very closely related. It will last for the entire summer, die back over the winter and be one of the first things peaking out of the soil in spring. Lovage is often easy to find at a nursery so starting with a plant makes it easy to grow. If you choose to grow from seed, it is another slow grower, so be patient. A really cool and fun thing about lovage is that the stalks are hollow, so trim them up and use as drinking straws at your next get together, especially with a Bloody Mary.
Celery stalks and leaves can be used for salads, soups, stuffing and chutneys. Like other herbs you can harvest in the fall, chop the leaves and freeze them in ice cube trays to use throughout the winter. Drying cutting celery or lovage will result in a less flavorful addition to your cooking. Experiment and have fun with celery and all its friends.
Mark your calendars: Join the Master Gardeners at the YMCA on Houk Road for our next community garden educational series. Pam Rice will present a program on garden maintenance. The program runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 21. Rice will talk about topics such as how to maintain, water, weed and compost within your garden at home or a community garden.
Susan Liechty is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.