The Impact of the new hybrid crosses of Celery on the Show Benches
6th Jun 2002
There's no doubt that the five new hybrid Ideal crosses of celery that I introduced two years ago are having a big impact on the show benches all over the Country. However we still have quite a bit to learn when to sow it and the general cultivation techniques need looking at as well. Last year I sowed Starburst F1, a cross between Ideal and Moonbeam self blanching, on my usual sowing date for the Ideal. Unfortunately I wasn"t able to show one as they were ready a good fortnight before the show date and were well over the top by then.
This year the sowing date was the 1st March and for the later show I had another sowing during the first week of April which hopefully will be fine for the September shows. This last sowing is still in 4 inch pots and will be ready for planting out in a weeks time. The first batch seem to be always ready for planting out around the Chelsea show time and I therefore have to make a decision whether to pot on and plant on my return from the show or plant them early.
This year I decided, for the first time ever to plant them out early, on the 6th May when they were still in 3½" pots having been in the Cold frame for four days previous. Luck was certainly on my side as the weather this Spring has been the best that I can remember and the plants never looked back from the day I planted them.
They were only about six inches tall when planted and the bed was given a good soaking as well as a scattering of slug pellets around each plant. On my return from Chelsea I was amazed with the difference in the whole garden, having been away from it for eight days you certainly notice the amount of growth that the plants have put on. The celery outer stalks were starting to fall over and touching the soil so I immediately encircled them with green plastic plant support clips which clip on to split canes. In another weeks time I shall put a nine inch loose collar around each plant made from black plastic builders damp course.
The purpose of this collar, which will about nine inches in diameter as well, is not to blanch the heads but rather to pull them slightly as some of these newer hybrids can tend to be difficult to get a length on them unless they are stretched or pulled when young. The proper collaring with the intention of blanching will not be carried until about seven weeks prior to the show date. This collaring material last year was corrugated cardboard which does the job really well, however a friend of mine in the building trade from Dorset brought me some stiff bubble material that seems to be perfect for the job.
What it's true use is for I'm not certain, but it seems to be like a sandwich of bubble polythene between some stiff plastic that looks like aluminium on the outside. It's approximately an eighth of an inch thick and one roll is 12 inches wide whilst the other, for some reason, is 19½ inches wide. I intend to use this material on both the celery and blanch leeks and I can certainly see some positive results being derived from the aluminium type backing. During the peak Summer which will very soon be with us, the temperatures can soar and this can cause all sort of problems for the celery, in particular celery heart rot. The aluminium colour on this material will help to positively repel the heat and keep the celery heart cool.
Another good friend of mine Jim Kirkness from Scotland showed me some very similar material that he had been using for many a year. This is probably not new and you should be able to buy it at your local builders merchant. One thing I know for a fact, Jim has always grown top quality celery and has supplied the Scottish Branch of the NVS with six heads when they stage their NVS inter branch competitions, so the proof of the pudding is certainly there.
The alternative to the above, which I used last year, was to wrap the celery around with corrugated paper and then another loose wrap around of the thin polystyrene material, again with some backing to it resembling aluminium. This can be bought at your DIY store and is generally used to paper the walls behind radiators to reflect the heat out. From now on remove all side shoots or suckers as and when you see them and make sure that the bed never dries out, as I have repeatedly said in this column, celery in it"s natural stage is a bog plant and therefore loves to have it's roots moist.
Many years ago, a friend of mine in the village, Ifan Gilfford, grew some tremendous celery and being a lover of the hose pipe, he continuously kept the small area they were growing in, not just moist but soaking wet. Indeed the small patch he used for growing the celery resembled a paddy field rather than a garden, but the results were quite astounding, probably the tallest celery that I have ever seen being well over five feet tall with the bulk to accompany it as well. Finally, keep giving the bed an adequate amount of slug pellets, they seem to love celery and the tiniest of marks on a young internal stick will soon spoil your chances on the show bench later on when that mark seemingly gets bigger and bigger.