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(Species: Apium graveolens - Family: Apiaceae)
Celery and its origins
The word celery derives from the Greek selinon, meaning parsley, which is of the same family. It is an ancient plant, featured in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The ancient Greeks used the leaves in wreaths to decorate athletes and the ancient Romans used it as a seasoning.
Its leaves were also an ingredient in the garlands discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb.
Celery has Mediterranean origins but was also native to areas extending to the Himalayas.
Celery is a plant comprising white to green, bunched, ridged stalks topped with foliage, reaching 30 to 40cms in height. It can be eaten raw and in salads, or thanks to its distinctive flavour, it can be used in cooking to flavour soups and casseroles.
The cultivated varieties have stouter leaf stems with less leaves; the white forms are thought to be crisper and more flavourful.
For the gardener, this is a demanding vegetable to grow. For best results, Celery needs diligent watering and feeding, it thrives in rich soil. The crop is susceptible to slug damage. If you can give the plant the attention it needs, the results are worthwhile.
Traditionally, celery was grown in prepared trenches, and the stems covered with soil at intervals, until only the tips of the leaves were showing. This method was laborious and from sowing seed to harvesting took a lengthy 40 weeks.
Thankfully, there are now self-blanching varieties that are easier to cultivate, need no trenches or earthing up and the time from seed to harvesting the celery is shorter, approximately 25 weeks.
How to plant Celery
Celery needs both a sunny site and fertile soil. You can buy self-blanching celery seedlings for planting out in early summer, or you can raise your own plants by sowing seed in early spring, hardening them off thoroughly before planting. Transplant when the plants each have five or six leaves. Place into soil that has been prepared with plenty of organic matter or well-rotted manure and apply a general fertiliser: xxg per xx sq metreXXX
Plant celery in blocks, not rows, at least 22cm apart, so the plants can shade one another. Water frequently, especially during dry periods, to avoid plants bolting or stalks splitting. Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser XXX.
Harvest this vegetable before the first frosts, using a trowel to lift out plants from the outside of the block first, so that the inner plants are not disturbed or damaged.
Celery plants can be plagued by slugs and snails so if these are a problem in your garden take precautions. Leaf miner or celery fly can destroy crops and the first visible signs are brown blister-like markings on leaves caused by small white maggots. Remove affected leaves if this is feasible, and spray with XXX at first signs.
Did you know: Celery facts
This vegetable can provoke severe allergies, even causing anaphylactic shock in people with celery allergy. In the European Union, foods that may contain celery must be marked accordingly.
Leaves, roots and seeds can all be used as a food, as seasoning, and as a medicinal remedy.