A Guide to Celery Growing
13th May 1998
I had my best season for many years with celery last year which meant that I was able to exhibit numerous heads at different shows through August and September. I had three different sowings and 10 plants from each sowing date were eventually planted, I have therefore followed the same pattern once more this year.
I had some seed given to me from Bob Herbert who is now well known for the quality of his celery as well as other numerous vegetables and I was also given some young plants by him, so between them all I shall be able to pick out the best and strongest plants for planting out in a weeks time. Some growers have a great deal of trouble at the very beginning with celery most being unable to get it to germinate and when germinated it can often collapse due to the dreaded damping off disease. It's important from day one to make sure that everything you use is clean, the seed trays as well as good quality compost. I use Levington F1 to start mine using it at the ratio of 3 parts F1 to 1 part fine vermiculite.
The main mistake that most growers do is to completely cover over the fine seed with sieved peat which blocks out the light completely thereby making it more difficult for successful germination. I very lightly cover my seed over with some fine grade vermiculite and the tray is moistened over using a fine mist spray, this light covering allows some light to get at the seed to aid germination. The tray is then placed in the propagator where it can take anything up to a fortnight to break through and sometimes even longer if the temperatures are too low.
My friend George Armstrong who is another good celery grower never covers his seed over at all, he merely scatters them on the surface of the compost and gently beds them in with a flat piece of wood. The tray is left uncovered in his propagator and given a fine mist spray on a daily basis and he really does have an excellent germination. If you are regularly having problems with damping off then spray the compost over with Cheshunt compound at the correct rate as this is the only chemical that"s available to the amateur grower whilst the professional growers have access to Filex.
As I have said on numerous occasions, celery is a bog plant in it's natural environment which immediately means that it likes moist damp conditions as well as plenty of organic matter. The year mine will be grown in two of the three new raised beds that I have just completed this Spring with the third bed being taken over as a trial area for growing different types of stump carrots, there will be 90 bore holes in this bed.
The beds took an awful lot of material to fill them and most of the lower area was covered with coarse sand that came out of the cores that formed my long carrot holes. The remainder of the beds were filled up with peat that I had bagged up from last years potato bags, numerous barrow fulls of 3 year old horse manure that I had stored last year at the bottom of the garden and finally some good quality loam from a field.
The whole bed has been thoroughly turned over and a base dressing of Chempak BTD and 4 ouinces of calcified seaweed was forked into the top 4 inches or so about a fortnight ago. The beds were also given a good soaking with Armillatox to sterilise any spores that may have been lurking around. The plants were regularly potted on using initially a mixture of M2 and some sieved top soil from my leek beds, 2 portions of M2, 1 portion of sieved soil and half a portion of fine vermiculite. The final mix in 5 inch pots would be 3 portions of M3, 3 portions of sieved soil and 1 portion of vermiculite. On top of this I add 4 ounces of Chempak potting base to every bushel of the above mixture.
It's very important with celery that they always have plenty of moisture around the roots and that is one reason why I like to use vermiculite in so many mixes as it helps to retain moisture within the compost whilst at the same time permitting plenty of air to get into the compost and at the root system, all of which means that there is less risk of your plants becoming under stress at any stage during their development.
The plants are now in a cold frame but a few days before planting they will be positioned along the bed in their growing stations so that they can be further hardened off and acclimatised to the elements. They need plenty of room for good growth and development as well as room for yourself so that you can easily get at them with the collaring material for blanching the stalks. Mine are planted at 18" between each plant and 24" between the rows. Water them in well using a weak dilution of Armillatox and don't forget that celery seems to be the slugs favourite dish so do make sure that you have plenty of slug pellets around the plants.
I shall cover the growing techniques such as collaring or blanching as the plants develop through the season.