Vegetables - Celery & Parsnips
18th Feb 1998
Of all the 20 pointed vegetables, Celery must surely be one of the most difficult to grow to perfection as it can completely let you down at the very last minute through having heart rot. Last year was one of my better seasons for growing it having had some plants from Bob Herbert of his own selection of the Ideal strain. In total I had three different sowings which should have taken me through to the end of September. As it happened an earlier sowing was still perfect so this was the one that I entered in the Malvern show.
Mid February is usually my first sowing date and the plants from this sowing will usually be ready for the mid to late August shows with a sowing at the end of February being fine for the September shows.
Staging a Collection
There is no doubt that to stage a collection of vegetables Celery is a must to pair up with leeks on the back board and if well grown will normally be given good points by the judge. The 20 points are awarded as follows: 5 for Condition including firmness and crispness, 5 for Size and shape, 5 for Colour (blanch) and 5 for Uniformity.
For the last ten years or so I have grown my celery at the far end of my garden, right behind the polytunnel and between a high concrete block wall which imparts some shade on to this particular strip which most certainly helps the celery when it gets very hot at the peak of Summer. This year though I have decided to move the bed to the front of the plot where I already have three beds which have been utilised in the past for growing various vegetables for the Chelsea show.
These beds have now been re constructed so that they are about two foot six above ground level, very much in line with the way that Bob Herbert grows his celery and if I grow mine to anything like his standard, I would be more than happy. There's no doubt that celery likes a lot of moisture around during it's growing season because in it's natural habitat it was a bog plant. The soil has therefore been built up with plenty of organic matter that will retain moisture as well as creating plenty of humus.
Last year I had a few trailer loads of three to four year old horse manure, part of this was stacked up at the far end of my garden and covered over with a polythene sheet. All of this material has now been incorporated into the soil as well as another small trailer full of the same material so that by the time I shall be planting out during May the beds should be really fertile.
The seed is always broadcast sown on top of some Levington F1 compost in a shallow seed tray and then lightly covered over with some fine vermiculite. The seed tray will then be placed into my propagator with plenty of bottom heat to get a good germination. This can often take over a fortnight to break through and should be ready for transplanting as soon as the first proper leaf appears. They will be potted up initially into 3" pots in Levington M2, and growth will initially be relatively slow but after a while it will soon move along and before long will require re potting into a 5" pot.
Lighting and Heating
I have never used artificial lighting with celery as it simply doesn't require it as enough growth is assured from sowing the seed at this time of year, heating though is essential and the greenhouse should ideally be maintained at a minimum of 55°F throughout. As I explained initially moisture is an important factor throughout the growing cycle with celery so the plants in the pots must never be allowed to go dry. If they do, then there is always the risk that they will go to seed later on and spoil what could be some top class celery heads.
Next week I intend to sow my parsnips, this is about a week earlier than I normally sow them, so, if you want to follow my way and my mixture, then prepare now to have some soil brought in to dry so that you can sieve it all through a ¼" sieve. Make sure also that you have some Levington F1 or some moss peat to hand, if using moss peat then this needs to be relatively dry as well in order for it to be sieved through a ¼" sieve.
You will also require some of the following, Sulphate of Potash, Superphosphate, fine Calcified seaweed, Carbonate of lime and some Kisserite (a slow acting form of magnesium at 16%). All of these can be had by mail order from Chempak, or Garden Direct which is the mail order side of Chempak. Write to them at Garden Direct, Dept MO, Geddings Road, Hoddesdon, Herts EN11 0LR for their catalogue which lists a host of Specialist products or you can ring them on 01992 446 699.