John Tullock grew up on a farm in the hills of eastern Tennessee and has never lost his fascination with the natural world. He earned a master’s degree in aquatic biology from the University of Tennessee, and has been involved with aquariums, water gardens, wildlife conservation and, of course, gardening, for over forty years. His current passions include growing food and raising rare plants on his quarter acre suburban residence near Knoxville. He is the author of numerous books, the latest of which is The New American Homestead: Sustainable, Self-Sufficient Living in the Country or in the City. When not gardening, writing or lecturing, he does market research and product development for a national retail trade group.

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This Year Try Celery
by John Tullock - posted 01/27/12

If your food garden does not include celery, you are missing out. Homegrown celery tastes great, costs little and places few demands on the gardener. If you want to try some this season, now is the time to start seeds indoors. Fill small pots with seed germinating mix and water well. Sprinkle a few celery seeds on top and barely cover with more growing mix. Water well again and place where the temperature will remain between 70º and 75ºF. Germination can take as long as three weeks. Provide bright light as soon as the seedlings emerge. When the plants are three inches tall, move them to containers holding about a quart of growing medium. As soon as they recover from transplanting, in a day or two, transfer them to a cold frame to harden off. Bring them in if nighttime temperatures below 55ºF are anticipated. Transplant to a permanent spot in the garden after the frost date, around Earth Day in the Tennessee Valley. Celery roots rarely extend more than eight inches beyond the crown. The plants are easy to tuck in with other vegetables, but make sure they receive plenty of water. Celery is a bog plant and thrives in highly organic soil that remains constantly moist. It will not, however, grow in standing water. If your garden soil has plenty of organic matter, ordinary irrigation should suffice.

Celery has two main enemies. The first is heat. By the Fourth of July, your plants are likely to show signs of heat stress. Leaves may turn yellow and die, and the flavor will be too harsh to use. Continue watering to keep the plants alive until the end of August. As the weather begins to cool down, remove all but the central stalks, side dress with a tablespoon of cottonseed meal per plant, and water well. Soon, the cooler weather of late summer and autumn will bring on new, succulent, sweet growth. You can continue to harvest, removing individual stalks as you need them, until the first hard freeze. Well before that time, dig up and plant and move it to your cold frame. Thus protected, it will continue to produce stalks all winter, until the return of spring informs it the time for blooming has arrived.

The second enemy of celery is a familiar one: snails and slugs. The love the succulent stalks as much as we do. Rather that consuming the entire thing, they tend to move from stalk to stalk, eating a bit of each one, and either killing it by girdling the base, or rendering it so riddled as to be useless in the kitchen. In short, a couple of the slimy mollusks can ruin many times their weight of your celery crop. Over the years, I have found two effective methods of controlling snails and slugs. The simplest is to apply commercial bait. Look for one that contains iron phosphate as its active ingredient, not methaldehyde. The latter can be dangerous for your pets, and may persist in the environment. Iron phosphate, on the other hand, is used as a food additive. It can actually serve as a source of plant fertilizer. To increase its effectiveness, apply the bait to a pile of coffee grounds.

Another approach to slug and snail control involves installing a copper barrier around the plants you want to protect. The mollusks will not crawl across bare copper, apparently because doing so generates a mild electric shock that repels them. Heavy gauge uninsulated copper wire, such as is used for electrical grounding, can be formed into rings around the base of plants, or you can run lengths of wire around the perimeter of a growing bed. In recent years, the price of copper has skyrocketed. You may find the cost of this approach outweighs the benefits in crops saved.

This season, try celery. Not only useful in the kitchen, it offers one of the longest harvest seasons of any vegetable crop. Two months in spring, two or three months in late summer and fall, and all winter if grown in a cold frame.

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