By Dr. Mercola
When you think about it, celery is a rather odd vegetable, quite different from others. At first bite, while it does deliver an amazing crunch, it doesn't seem to have all that much flavor. Slice it up for a garden salad, however, and you'll notice how fresh and "foody" it tastes, adding unmistakable flavor to a variety of dishes, from lentil soup to stir-fries.
It can be enjoyed as a delicious snack with nut butter, and it's a perfect "finger" food to place on a healthy snack tray with raw grass fed cheese, pickles and other crunchy raw veggies.
Celery is a descendant of wild celery, related to parsnips, parsley and fennel of the Apiaceae plant family. A billion pounds are produced in the U.S. annually, 80 percent of it from California, Michigan and Florida, but it has a history in a surprising number of regions of the world, including Sweden, Asia, Egypt and mountainous areas of India. In Europe, celery is blanched or deprived of light as it's growing to give the stalks a lighter color and a more delicate consistency.
Many people prefer using the darker green outer stalks for cooking, and the paler, more tender stalks for eating raw or in dishes like cold egg salad. In addition, celery seeds have a remarkably robust, almost sharp flavor, and it doesn't take much to add flavor and zest to sauces, chutneys and condiments. As such, they're often used for making pickles.
Celery seeds are also good in soups and even sprinkled on sandwiches as a topping, but remember: A little goes a long way. Aside from the seeds required to sow in order to grow celery, celery seeds must be labeled as food-grade. Many grocery stores keep them in stock, but they can also be ordered online. Celery itself can be purchased in grocery stores, supermarkets and many farmers markets, but it's much healthier grown organically in your own garden.
How to Grow Organic Celery in Your Garden
Growing organic produce like celery simply means without the use of harmful chemicals. Celery, unfortunately, is one crop that is heavily sprayed in commercial operations, so grow your own! While it's possible to pick up celery seedlings or "starts" at many nurseries, you'll have more varieties to choose from if you buy seeds, instead.
Read the labels to find out which varieties work best in your zone, noting differences in the color (some have a red tinge), flavor and hardiness of the end product. Organic Life suggests sowing your seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last projected spring frost, following this procedure:
- Soak your seeds in water overnight to encourage germination.
- Prepare a flat plant container by placing a half-and-half mixture of sand and compost in it, smoothing it to get it ready for planting.
- Plant the seeds in rows 1 inch apart and cover each seed with a one-half inch layer of the sand and compost mixture.
- Next, cover the seeds with a one-half inch layer of sand, then cover the entire flat with damp sphagnum moss or burlap until the seeds begin to sprout.
- Place the flat(s) in a sunny spot (although out of direct sun), maintaining a temperature of 70 degrees to 75 degrees F throughout the day and around 60 degrees F at night.
Water the plants liberally and often, make sure they're draining well and give them plenty of circulating air. Transplant them into individual pots when they're about 2 inches high. At 6 inches high (or about five leaves), take them to an in-between area like a porch for 10 days or so to "harden off" or get them used to higher temperatures. Outside, it's best to plant your celery on an overcast day rather than one that's hot and sunny, because celery likes a gradual transition.
Space them 6 to 8 inches apart, with rows 2 to 3 feet apart, and no deeper than they were when planted in the pots. Once in the ground, add several inches of mulch at the base, give them 1 inch of water per week and use compost tea (recipe below) every 10 to 14 days. When temperatures fall below 55 degrees F, you can use cloches — bottomless, clear, gallon-sized jugs will do — to protect them. Remove them during the day when it gets warmer.
Composting and Troubleshooting Problems
For the best results, your garden dirt should be rich with compost or other organic matter when you plant vegetables like celery. Many people have grown gardens for years without it, but when you see the difference between those offerings and the produce grown in "black gold," it's very evident how important compost is. If you've ever had a chance to get a look and feel of the inside of a good compost pile, you may remember how amazingly warm it feels, almost steaming with heat.
Adding mature compost with good bacteria once in a while helps speed up the heating process. A good compost pile starts with a layer of straw (not hay) to discourage pests and weeds. Add garden and kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds and egg shells, along with horse stable bedding, garden plants (not weeds) and about one-third of the entire pile manure. A two-thirds ratio or so of leaves, grass or cornstalks allows for air flow.
Minuscule critters that sometimes infest celery include carrot rust flies, parsley worms, celery leaf tiers and nematodes. You'll see evidence of one or more if you spot brown sunken spots on the celery stalks or joints that are turning black. Diseases1 are another thing to watch for in your celery, as well as other vegetables. Early blight (fall blight affects ornamental plants) may be evidenced by black dots on the leaves.
Both pests and diseases can be controlled by using disease-free seed and seedlings, and applying Trichoderma harzianum (a type of fungus) to the soil before planting. A baking soda spray helps prevent and control a disease called early blight, as well as powdery mildew and anthracnose. Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda with 2 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Add 1 gallon of water, dissolve one-half teaspoon of castile soap in it and pour the mixture into a pump sprayer. Thoroughly spray your plants, inside and out, every five to seven days.2 Pink rot may appear if the roots or bottoms of the plants sit in water for too long, and fungus and rusting disease may cause plants to wilt or turn yellow. Rotate your crops to help curb these diseases, but if you see a plant or even just a stalk wilting, cut out the entire bad area and destroy any affected plant parts.
Compost Tea: A Fertilizing Recipe
Compost tea isn't for your cup or glass; it's a fertilizing blend that celery (and other veggies) can soak up as they're growing to supply helpful nutrients they wouldn't get otherwise. It also discourages harmful fungus from forming. Here's what you need:
- A 40-gallon barrel or a large wooden crate made from pallets, ideally with steel chicken wire on two or three sides.
- Mature, earthy-smelling compost
- Cheesecloth or burlap
Compost tea procedure:
- Place compost and water (1 part water for 1 part compost) in the barrel or crate, placed away from excessive cold or heat.
- Stir the "tea" with a sturdy stick every day for at least five days. A good tea should be somewhere between 135 and 155 degrees F or more, reached by regularly "turning" the compost pile.
- Strain the liquid through the cheesecloth or burlap. Use immediately, as is.
Notes: Make sure the compost still smells fresh during the straining process and that it's not bubbling, indications of an anaerobic environment, which harms rather than helps the soil. Rodale's Organic Life says, "A well-built pile that has composted for at least a year will also produce tea-ready compost even if it did not heat up to the ideal temperature range." Achieve either a good, hot compost pile quickly3 or a "mature" pile maintained over a year or more.
Harvesting and Other Tips for Adult and Junior Gardeners
As noted, celery is considered a summer crop in the North and a winter crop in the South. To get a fall crop (sometimes called a second harvest) sow your celery seed indoors in May or June for transplanting outside in June or July. In the regions where celery grows best, rich soil, lots of water and respite from blistering sun and high temperatures are the basics that make all the difference. Of course, this depends on the gardening zone where you live, but remember that shade is required for this tender crop when it's hot and humid.
Harvest your celery by cutting it off just below the soil line, but did you know you can "regrow" celery from the base of the stalk? In fact, Mother Earth News notes: "If you're growing celery in moist garden soil, stalk celery can be handled as a cut-and-come-again crop — just harvest a few outer stalks at a time."4 This concept is a popular one for kids, who are fascinated (as they should be!) by the fact that a tiny seed can become a large, delicious food.
Simply cut all the stalks off at one time, leaving you with a flat, light green base, usually a little dirty on the bottom. Rinse it well, place it in a shallow cup of warm water (rinsed and exchanged daily) and set it in a windowsill. An experimental gardener told Mother Nature Network:
"There was little to do except change the water and look at it daily for changes. As the middle of the base of celery began to regrow healthy, dark green leaves and eventually stalks, the outside of the base began to turn brown and break down."5
In five days or so, you'll see the center of your little celery operation growing in the center, beginning with green leaves and eventually sturdy little stalks. When the initial base turns crusty and breaks apart, your little restart can be put into a pot of organic soil outside. It may take three months or longer to for a mature stalk of celery.
How Celery Helps Maintain Health, Weight and Other Secrets
One trade secret of people who like to maintain a healthy weight is the fact that celery is a delicious, satisfying, crunchy snack with very few calories, but it's also loaded with fiber. Eating a single cup of chopped celery provides 6 percent of your Daily Reference Intake (DRI), not to mention high amounts of vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium and manganese.6
Along with several other phytonutrients, celery contains a number of flavonoids such as lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene, which studies indicate decreases inflammation along with your risk of heart disease. It also inhibits the growth of abnormal cancer-causing cells and enhances your overall immune system. Celery has many different types of uses. One is juicing, which helps add vital nutrients to your diet while ridding your body of toxins.
One thing about our soil nowadays is that many nutrients are simply not present to the degree they were, say, 50 years ago. One scientist maintains that, to get the same amount of iron people used to get about 70 years ago, today you'd have to eat 36 servings of them! The only viable way to do that is by juicing, which provides a "shot" of immediately bioavailable enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
Diabetes, colitis, chronic pain, sleep apnea, asthma and many other diseases and disorders have proved to be significantly reduced simply by juicing. One study showed that juicing more than three times a week lowered participants' risk for developing Alzheimer's,7 so it supports brain health, but juicing also boosts your immune system, and increases your energy as well as your intake of structured water.
You can use several organic veggies at a time, such as combining kale or other greens, cucumbers, celery, herbs, strawberries, blueberries, limes, ginger, cinnamon and many more foods, all of which help to increase your nutrient intake.
Eating fermented vegetables like celery is an excellent way to develop a healthy gut flora and avoid gastrointestinal disorders and infections that become more prevalent with age. Consuming one-half cup of fermented veggies daily helps maintain healthy microbiota in your intestines, and helps reduce heart disease, obesity and even cancer.