Monday, March 15, 2010

Celery Growing In St. Louis

Rick and I are volunteering in the Archives of the Missouri Botanical Garden. I am cataloging the slides of Walter Hodge, botanist and photographer, a collection numbering in the tens of thousands of photographs arranged alphabetically by genus. I might get through the Acers (maples) next week. Rick is scanning the same slides that I cataloged in the fall of 2009, the photographs by Jack Jennings whose work graced the annual Garden calendar for decades.

Rick's work contains a fair amount of downtime as the slide scans, so he has been reading old issues of the Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin. An article he read last week has to do with growing celery in St. Louis and was published in March, 1915. Here is the link to the 1915 volume on Botanicus; the celery article starts on page 41. According to the article, "it is possible to grow good celery on a small scale and with but little effort." It also says that celery "is a garden product good only while perfectly fresh. Its flavor and crispness are soon lost after the plants are removed from the conditions surrounding their growth." If that's true, we both believe we may have never eaten a good stalk of celery.

Another reason to grow celery is that it is number 4 on the list of highest pesticide load. So, celery is a great candidate for growing instead of purchasing conventionally grown and marketed stalks.

There are late and early varieties of celery. The article mentions three early varieties that are recommended for St. Louis: White Plume, Golden Self Blanching, and Golden Heart. Of these, only the Golden Self Blanching variety seems readily available now. The White Queen and Giant Pascal varieties "should be selected for winter use." White Queen is available at Kitazawa Seed and Giant Pascal is available from several seed companies.

Much of the celery article explains how to blanch or bleach celery. We found this confusing in all details from "why?" to "how?". I think, to start, I'll try the Golden Self Blanching variety and look for some modern sources about how to grow celery. If anyone in the St. Louis area is growing celery and would like to offer me a demonstration, I would love to see your garden in action this summer.