There’s not a lot at harvesting stage in my garden at the moment. The garden looks great – its just that things are either finishing or not ready yet.
The shallots are still growing, the broad beans are only just flowering, the cabbages are yet to heart, the silver beet’s flowering and the parsley’s gone to seed. I’ve even had to pull out two of the purple sprouting broccoli plants to try and give the cabbages room and a bit of a hurry up.
What I do have is celery (even if it is getting a bit old and strongly flavoured). I pretty much always have celery, which is good because I use a fair bit of it. I use the skinnier stalks and leaves in stock, I use the stalks in risotto, I use the best stalks in salads and quite often I just eat it as is (well as soon as I’ve washed off the slugs anyway).
I treat my celery as a pick and come again crop, harvesting from it at a rate of about a stick per mature plant per week until it eventually decides to procreate and goes to seed. I try to have about 4 -5 plants big enough to harvest from in the garden at any one time. I replace them yearly (even if they don’t bolt), as soon as the new seedlings are big enough, as the younger plants have better flavour.
When harvesting from a pick and come again plant I try and cut the stalk as low as possible, preferably just below ground level if I can (although sometimes due to the plants positioning it is too hard to get very low and the plants survive without many ill effects).
How I grow Celery
I grow my celery from seed saved from the previous years plants. The original seed was a hand me down from my father who got his plant from someone who called it perennial celery (they also grew it from their families saved seed). It self seeds in the garden and if its in an OK place I usually leave it to get on with growing. I also sow it into seed trays and usually pot the seedlings up once before planting out.
I sow seed in Melbourne’s Spring (Sept – December) and in Autumn, the Spring ones for my main plants to get me through winter and the Autumn ones are a back up in case the established plants bolt before the new ones are ready to produce or I need to move the plants to make way for other crops. To be honest the Autumn sown ones often bolt at the same time as the spring sown ones. Reflecting on it, it is probably best to simply sow seed (with protection) at the start of Spring, unless you are really pushed for space and need the flexibility of having some spare plants.
I don’t mind my celery green and as a result I have never tried to blanch it. If you want to have a go at blanching then you need to wrap something round the stems for about a month before harvest (I know people who use newspaper or milk cartons with the end cut out for this purpose).
Celery likes a lot of water and is a pretty heavy feeder (whenever I’ve grown garlic near it the closest bulbs are usually stunted). I try and dig in lots of compost prior to planting and give it a liquid feed about every 2 weeks. The amount of food and water seems to have a big effect on the plant, as does the season. In winter when the plants get lots of food and water I get lots of long thick and deliciously crisp stems. If I neglect to water or I plant in poorer quality soil the stems are skinnier, shorter and not as crisp – fine for cooking but a bit tough for eating raw. My understanding is that this is because celery is best when it grows quickly. Even with reasonable amounts of food and water the flavour does seem to concentrate in warmer conditions. I also find that as the plant ages the flavour becomes stronger – which again is fine for cooking but less good for salads. I presume this is why some people prefer to harvest the whole plant at once when it is comparatively young.
I tend to plonk plants here and there throughout the garden where ever there is space – but generally where it is easily accessible to enable regular picking. If planting it in a group it needs about 20 – 30cm between plants.
Pests & Annoyances:
Whilst I find celery relatively trouble free to grow I do get quite a lot of slugs hiding between the stalks, they seem to eat the occasionally hole in the plant in the stalks (although rarely all the way through) and leave weird patterns on the outside. They don’t usually cause so much damage that the stalks are inedible. I use beer traps to try and coax them out as because they hide between the stalks I only find them when harvesting.