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Vermont Garden Journal: Join The Celery Bandwagon

Celery has the reputation of being hard to grow, but actually it's ideally suited to our climate.

This vegetable is ancient. Wild versions were used medicinally in 850 BC to ward off colds, flu and poor digestion. Its origins are from around the Mediterranean Sea, but it's also found wild in Asia and Northern Europe. The Italians first started growing it as a vegetable in the 17th century and through seed saving, they created taller stalks that weren't as strong flavored as the wild relatives. This vegetable is known as celery.

Celery has the reputation of being hard to grow, but actually it's ideally suited to our climate. The key is to give it cool, moist growing conditions for 130 days to get a good crop. That requires starting celery seed indoors now to be transplanted 10 weeks later.

I've been late to the celery bandwagon, but I love growing it now. Try different varieties such as "Tall Utah" or "Tango." I like "Tango" because it's quicker to mature and self-blanching. Celery likes evenly moist soil, so amend raised beds before planting with compost to retain soil moisture. Even though they like cool summers, mine grew well last summer even in the heat and drought, as long as I kept the soil moist.

Other than the occasional swallowtail butterfly larvae munching on leaves, celery is easy to grow. You can make even self-blanching celery stalks have a milder flavor and more tender texture by covering them. Either mound soil around the plants or wrap the stalks with foil to keep them out the sun. I personally like a strong celery flavor, so do neither method and just pick the celery stalks while they're young.

Now for this week's tip: with warmer weather, start pruning your apple trees. Remove water sprouts and suckers and dead, broken or diseased branches any time. Open up the center of the tree by removing inward growing branches and those shading other branches. The rule of thumb is a robin should be able to fly through your pruned tree when done.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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