Crisp and succulent, celery has a unique flavor and satisfying crunch that make it a favorite with gourmets and dieters alike. Celery is delicious regardless of whether it’s served cooked or raw. It adds zest to soups and stews and can be baked, braised, steamed, or even slathered with cream cheese or peanut butter for a high-energy snack. An eight-inch-long stalk has only about six calories, which makes it a popular diet food.
Wild celery is native to coastal areas of the Mediterranean, Europe, and southern Asia. The ancients used preparations of the plant to expel kidney stones, treat nervous disorders, and relieve the pain from gout and arthritis. The Romans used celery and its seeds to flavor meats and fish. It wasn’t until the early 1700s, however, when developments improved celery’s flavor, that it was widely accepted as a food.
Celery requires a long growing season and demands a continuous supply of moisture and heavy fertilization. But, the taste of tender, just-picked stalks is well worth the extra effort. Most areas don’t have a gardening season long enough for celery to reach maturity, so plants in these regions must be started indoors up to three months before they are to be set out. Soak the seeds overnight to soften the tough seed coat, and then plant them in a flat of regular potting soil one-half inch apart and one-eighth inch deep. When the seedlings reach one to two inches tall, transplant them to individual pots.
When all danger of frost has passed, the plants, now about five inches tall, can be moved to the garden in full sun. Celery thrives in mucklike conditions, so if your garden soil is sandy or well drained, mix in lots of compost along with a generous helping of well-rotted manure.
Celery can be planted fairly close in the garden. Set each plant six to eight inches apart in rows two feet apart. A mulch of straw or clippings will help to conserve moisture and discourage weeds. When it’s large enough, you can harvest your celery a stalk at a time or take the entire head by cutting it just below the soil line. Share some of this unique crop with your friends, and you will be hearing “thanks a bunch” over and over again.