Growing Celery for Showing
23rd Jul 1997
I have three different sowings of celery this year, the first time that I have ever had so many simply because of the vast time scale between my first show and the last. The first one will be my County Show here in Anglesey and this will be fathers 53rd year of competing in this show without missing a single year, not a bad achievement. The last show will be the National Vegetable Society Championships at Malvern at the end of September, so there is a seven week gap with Welsh Championship also falling in between. It was therefore impossible to even think about one sowing being sufficient for all these shows.
I was very fortunate this year to be able to get three lots of plants from Bob Herbert who has his own selection of seed from the winning strain Ideal and excellent plants they have turned out to be, so together with my own sowings I should have some decent heads to stage. As Bob lives in Mossborough he does not normally try in the National as they are usually held During August so this time I am really looking forward to the challenge between Bob, Bill Wise and Gaynor Brown. This should be some class with the latter two having been very prominent in this competition over the past few years.
My first sowing is now on a collar of eighteen inches and these should be ready for the Anglesey show on Tuesday and Wednesday 12 and 13 of August. There are two main problems to watch out for with celery, the first is slugs, if you do not keep these at bay, then your chances of winning will be reduced. Slugs seem to come form everywhere to munch on celery and I am beginning to think that they must be the worlds greatest long jumpers! I have put loads of pellets around each individual head and yet I have still seen some young slugs inside the foliage or stalks.
What I have used this year on a regular basis, in addition to the pellets, is the liquid slug Killer from Murphy called Slugit. This has been around for years and is excellent as it actually gets into every nook and cranny within the plant. It contains 20% Metaldehyde and just as importantly, it leaves no visible bait on the ground so children and pets need not be excluded from treated areas. Apply this every 7 to 10 days to make sure that the slugs are kept at bay and use it preferably in warm humid conditions when the slugs are more active and preferably before a sunny day.
The second big problem is the dreaded Celery heart rot, and very year at the national shows someone will have had fantastic heads ruined at the last minute. I can think of nothing so heart destroying than having nursed your plants for weeks on end to a superb standard only to take the collars off one day and the find to your disgust that the young shoots growing in the centre of the plant have started to turn black. This is undoubtedly a major problem and is worst during hot Summers than during wet cool seasons. If you have heart rot on you celery, then you can forget about staging it, not even at your local show, because it's one of the faults that the judges will most certainly be looking for.
The problem can be attributed to lack of calcium in the young shoots and as these are completely encased within the stalks and then covered over with brown paper for blanching, the whole plant sweats, and that in itself can also a contributory factor. I have already tried to combat this by making a 2% mixture of Calcium Nitrate. What I have done to save time, is to mix it together in the watering can with the Slugit and whilst pouring it all over the plants, making sure it gets into the heart and on to the surrounding soil, continuously stir the mixture in the watering can. This should have the effect of hardening the young tender shoots and should go a long way towards preventing the heart from rotting.
Growing in a slightly shady position is also a help and that is why mine is located at the bottom of the garden between my last polytunnel and the high boundary wall, a perfect position. Celery loves manure and the bed had plenty of horse manure this year, it was dug in during the Autumn and a few weeks ago another mulch was given, between two to three inches thick all over the bed. Continue to water thoroughly right through to lifting for the show bench, and for the first batch I have now given them a feed of Phostrogen plant food that has a ratio of 14:10:27. I am hoping that the higher percentage of Potash in this feed will also help towards hardening up the plant and to draw out the pinkish colour at the base, this looks really striking when they have been grown well.
My second sowing will soon have eighteen inch collars on whilst the first batch is still on split canes and green plastic plant support clips, the collaring of this last batch will start around the second weekend in August. This should be enough time to get a decent blanch without, I hope, the heart rot affecting them; as I have never grown and staged celery this late I just hope that I have got the timing right.