Aiming for Success with Celery
19th Feb 1997
Learning from Mistakes
Celery hasn't been one of my vegetable successes over the past few years, in the main because I have trouble with them when growing as mature plants in the five inch square pots. The past two years have been particularly bad with the roots browning off and the young shoots from the heart seemingly sweating and eventually rotting. From about thirty plants that I had potted on last year I managed to get fifteen for planting out. The plants were therefore under some stress and though planted out in time, were very slow to get established with the consequence that they never really made good strong plants.
The Way Forward
This year the small patch of ground behind the far polytunnel has been really worked over well with most of last years celery being broken up with a spade and dug into the bottom of the trench. I was very fortunate also to be able to get plenty of horse manure from a friend of mine and during November this was spread all over the surface to a depth of about 4". By the time I shall be planting out towards the middle of May the manure will have been well broken down so that I can thoroughly fork in the remainder. The other adjoining crop to the celery will be peas and these will most certainly enjoy the good depth of rich soil that will be waiting for them.
This week I shall sow my first sowing of "Ideal" celery from J Arthur Bowers and it's strange that no other celery apart from the variety that's known as Turners White has come remotely near to beating it in the benches. You only have to visit the top shows in the country to notice that without exception, "Ideal" will be the only variety exhibited. Celery in it's natural habitat is a bog plant and therefore loves to have it's roots moist most of the time, indeed from the day it's pricked out it should never be allowed to go dry as this will inevitably lead to the plant bolting which is always a sign that it has been under stress at some point during it's growing cycle.
When sowing the seed make sure that the trays or pots are clean as it's been proved that most plants collapse as seedlings from the damping off disease because of lack of care with cleanliness. At the bottom of my garden I store my old galvanised bath tub which is used to wash all the root crops at show time. This is perfect for cleaning out all the pots and trays and a capful of Armillatox in the water will give further confidence that all the nasty spores have been eliminated. Make sure also that you use a fresh seed compost I always use Levington F1 but you can mix up your own using the Chempak range of seed and potting mixtures.
The celery needs warmth for good germination so use a shallow seed tray so that the bottom heat from your propagating bench or from your propagator will warm through your compost quickly. A couple of years ago I proved that the shallower the receptacle, the faster the germination will be; I sowed some seed in my normal half size seed tray and the same seed in a five inch half pot. The germination in the seed tray was much faster and more even than in the pot simply because the warmth or heat at this time of year comes in the main from below and simply warms the shallower tray faster.
Broadcast sow the seed on top and as celery is the smallest of all the vegetable seed, finely cover over with some fine vermiculite or peat and give the tray a good watering through a fine rose on your watering can or even better use a sprayer, this doesn't disturb the surface as much as a watering can. This year I have used Vermiculite to cover all my fine seed sowing and find that the germination rate is much improved.
Within the next few weeks I shall be writing a special article on one of the country's top exhibition celery grower, and for once this grower is a woman and through her dedication and her love of growing this plant, she has pushed most of the men into the also ran position. Watch out for the way that Gaynor Brown from Pembroke manages to win at the country's top events. Also coming shortly is a special on the way that Charles Maissey has consistently been winning with his Runner Beans at the highest level, all his secrets and know how will be thoroughly explained.