May 8, 2013

Planting Celery and Artichokes

Home grown celery that will be comparable to commercial farm-raised celery is not an easy task for anyone, but with some weekly care ( mostly fertilizer and water), healthy, yet thinner-than store bought, crispy flavor-intense celery can be had throughout a long growing season. Think of home grown celery more as an herb, a seasoning rather than something you would stuff with peanut butter. The greener it is, the more bitter it will be.

Celery and Artichokes are two crops often over-looked by home gardeners, and for a good reason, they are long-growing crops, not particularly easy, and they are not space savers ( although, as you can see in the photo above, I sneak in my celery seedlings into my onion bed!). Both Celery and Artichokes need deep, rich soil and lots of moisture, as commercialy, these are both cool-growing and irrigated crops. So plan on plenty of hose runs, and tri-weekly watering. Still, growing your own is better than supporting commercial growers who are doing God-knows-what to their crops, and then flying them to you. Growing these in your back yard makes far more sense, and, naturally, the results are healthier.

OK, I know - just mention celery to most home gardeners, and they respond "It's just something I don't grow since all I get is bitter, dark green leaves.". It's true that celery as a crop requires lots of fertilizer, rich soil and sunlight, and a copious ( i.e. crazy) amount of constant moisture, to even come near the thick, crispy stemmed type one finds at the market, but don't assume that you cannot grow it at home, it just takes a little planning, and care.
I grow celery because its one of the top 5 toxic vegetables ( commercially, it requires more chemicals than most any other vegetable) but at home, that is unnecessary, aside from a little liquid fertilizer ( or, a lot!), I feel that at least, my home grown celery offers a healthy alternative for a few months to the large, foreign-looking monsters one finds at the market. Here how I do it.

Celery seedlings are set out into the garden after growing from seed, these seedlings are 4 months old, started under lights in January, transplanted into individual pots in the greenhouse, and fertilized weekly to keep them strong. What makes these different than store-bought plants or store bought veggies? I use no growth retardants, no chemical insecticide, and I know exactly what fertilizer I am providing ( 15-16-17 with micro nutrients, and limestone).

Celery takes a long time to grow well, seed must be started early, generally in late January or early February indoors. carefully transplanted, the seedlings are grown on in individual pots ( I use 3 inch plastic pots that I wash out each year, but choose something where roots can spread out and grow while young, for celery has roots like trees, and one wants a good root spread at a young age to avoid tangles and unnecessary disturbance when planting out. I set plants out into the garden in mid-May, and provide them a drink of fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium.  Water-in well with a good drink of vitamins, and provide plenty of water every week, and before long, you too can be harvesting celery that actually has flavor. On that note, if you want to skip fertilizer all together, grow celery for the leaves alone, which are essential ingredients in home made stocks ( irreplaceable in chicken or vegetable stock) and a flavorful addition to tuna salad. One can pick leaves right through frost.

Fertilizer is essential when growing celery, as this is a crop that demand plenty of nutrition and constant moisture. Blanching is rarely needed with new varieties, but one can still place boards or even better, tar paper cones wrapped around the plant in late August if you want whiter stems (I like the stronger celery flavor, but after harvesting, I place plants in vases of cool water for a day which tempers the bitterness). Remember...bitter means healthy vitamin-rich antioxidants !


An update here on my artichoke project ( in case you are following along). Now planted out into the garden, my plants are positioned 2 feet apart ( a little close, but plant no closer - 36 inches is best). Like celery, artichokes need a consistent and adequate supply of both water and fertilizer. If you are stingy with either, then you just are not following good horticultural practice, and you will end up with few flowers, and small plants. I eat healthy, take vitamins, eat nutritionally-dense food, and, so do my plants. Just be sure to provide the "right" nutrients, and not unnecessary ones ( like crazy home-made Epsom-salt blends!).

It's might be helpful here to share how weather affects artichokes, for these are plants that prefer frequent fogs, cool temperatures and when combined with deep, rich soil and moisture, you will achieve the maximum yield. Be sure to plant enough plants ( I am only growing 6 due to room) but if I had the space, I would plant a long row with a couple of dozen plants 26 inches apart, for one wants a bowl full of artichokes to work with in the kitchen. Plan on flower buds being about a quarter of the size of the fancy California chokes, but they will have far more flavor and a remarkable texture.  Each plant will produce one to four primary stems with a large bud, and then each stem, after initial harvest, should produce side buds which will be smaller.

Artichoke seedlings require at least 10 days of cool temperatures outdoors ( under 50º)  if they are being grown to produce buds as an annual crop. Thankfully, my plants have been planted out for three weeks now, and each night temperatures have dropped well below 40º F. Called vernalization, this tricks the plant to believe that it lived through a winter, which will stimulate it to produce flower buds ( which, are artichokes!).

The artichoke seedlings, which have been growing on - first in the greenhouse, and then for the past few weeks,- have been set out into the garden where they have been recieving 3 weeks of temperatures below 40º which is needed for proper vernalization. These are being grown as annual plants, as artichokes are not hardy here in New England. Even though I know that these will provide smaller buds than the giants grown on the coastal plains of northern California, they will be fresh and crispy, and - home grown, and nothing beats that. Plus, I can enjoy fresh artichokes in mid to late summer, when they are out-of-season in California.

Another heavy feeder, artichoke seedlings are fed weekly with a balanced liquid feed  and they are planted in a rich, compost created with our own duck manure. The leaves are really huge!

I will share images throughout the season, and then recap the entire process filing it under VEGETABLES and STEP-BY-STEP for you all to follow next year! If you have any questions on other step-by-step projects, just send me a note or ask me on my Facebook page, and I will be happy to either answer it, or grow the crop to perfection and document it! Now....get out into the garden!


  1. I grew celery for the 1st time last year and have grown artichokes before. The artichokes were totally worth it, but I was amazed at the number of earwigs that hid in its many crannies. Celery, I'm not so convinced about. I grew a row that was constantly fed a slow stream of water via soaker hose and fertilized the things every day. I even tried collaring a few of the plants, but discovered it just provided a hide for those earwigs to eat the stalks to pieces. The end result was a less fat and more green version of the grocery store variety. Given I have very limited garden space, I determined this crop wasn't worth the space for me to grow, but I'm glad I tried it.

  2. I'm curious exactly what fertilizer you give your celery? Do you use an organic one? Fish emulsion, kelp?

  3. I've also seen a "cutting celery" (leafier) for sale at my farmers' market. I think that might be easier for those who are space challenged or otherwise resistant to growing celery. I'm trying artichoke for the first time this year. It's planted in a deep, compost filled bed.
    Could you give me a brief rundown of your fertilizer of choice for artichoke, and your fertilizing schedule?

  4. Wow, lots of questions! First, I should have stated that home grown celery requires an expectation-shift. Yes, you will get mostly leaves and any crispy stems worthy of a salad I would consider a bonus. I often grow the cutting celery varieties, but still prefer traditional celery, as in some years, I can get decent stems. The key secret ( fact) to get maximum results ( i.e. supermarket quality stems) is fertilizer and water. Sunlight and soil condition must all be perfect. Search Google for directions from your local University Extension for regional hints. Fertilizer tips - you can go organic ( I, like most botanists, see no difference between "chemical" fertilizer and organic, these chemicals are all chemicals, just ask any chemist in your circle. But if you prefer fish emulsion, this is one time you can use it but note: professional growers use super-high nitrogen throughout the growing season ( 46-0-0) and fish emulsion analysis varies by brand, but averages at 5-1-1) You just may need to use more, resulting in a stinky field. I increase soil fertility at planting time with manure, and a more balanced granular feed of 10-10-10 and a liquid feed higher phosphorus and potash to increase root growth at planting time, as celery as a plant, has weak roots, so the goal is to stimulate root growth while young, to maximize the plants ability to uptake water and nutrients later. Hey, if you only want fresh celery flavor for soups and stock, lay back on the fert!

  5. Excellent piece of advice Matt, it is always better to consult experts, who always give you best solution depending upon the nature of your soil.

    But my preference has always been for organic fertilizers,whenever I had my way. Chemical is a big no no.

  6. Thanks Alex! I try to use organic sources for most fertilizer, but we should remember that chemically, all fertilizers are chemicals - just the source of the chemical is different.Nitrogen is Nitrogen, at the molecular level, it's all the same. The difference is salts, and how fast a plant can access or process the nitrogen. Natural sources, such as ground seeds can take months or a year to convert available nitrogen, so bone mean, blood meal, and other organic sources are excellent for the garden, but they are often too slow acting to benefit short season crops. When we grow vegetables that need to be grown and harvested with a couple of months, be sure to add these sources a year in advance, or during the previous winter. We all should be more conscious about referring to fertilizer as organic or not, I would use terms like 'organic sources' rather than chemical. This may call for a more detailed post.

  7. This is my first visit here and I'm glad I came. I never thought of growing celery or artichokes. Are the home grown artichokes more tender because they are smaller?

  8. I have not tried celery yet, but have grown celeriac (the celery tasting root vegetable). For celery flavoring (in stocks for instance) we use lovage, a tough perennial herb. A little goes a long way as it has a very concentrated flavor.
    I would love to try artichoke or cardoon - both are so attractive - but in a zone 5 garden, I expect it might be quite a challenge.


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