Celery and low tunnels

In advance of some really cold weather, I harvested, washed, and packed all the celery.

I’d always heard that celery was a “difficult” vegetable to grow, and I don’t personally love eating it.  These two factors kept me from trying to grow any when I started expanding my vegetable operation.  However, the need for a variety of veggies for the CSA got me to try it out.  I think it was 2011 when I first gave it a shot.

Like everything in the Apiaceous plant family (carrots, celery, dill, fennel, cilantro, parsley, and some others), celery does not tolerate weed competition.  It is very slow to get started.  It takes 8 – 12 weeks to get nice looking small transplants.  It prefers consistent watering, good fertility, and doesn’t like hot temperatures.

What I learned from my first celery crop was that if one or two of these things goes wrong, you get really, really bitter celery.  2011 was not as hot as 2012, but the celery still suffered.  Some of it was edible, some was so bitter that even after cooking it I had to throw it out!

Even when things are going right, Indiana celery, at least based on what I’ve seen on my farm and observed on others, is darker green and more intensely celery flavored than what you see in the grocery store.  To allow celery to mature in cooler weather, I decided to move it later in the planting calendar and do it as a fall crop in 2013 and 2014.  The results were favorable, especially this year.  We’ve had a cool summer with above average rainfall and the celery really liked this.  It tastes good and recent light frosts have given it a sweet undertone.

A nice feature of celery is that it’s easy to harvest.  One push with a wide blade knife (I use this one) and the plant is in hand.  A little extra trimming in the field is often needed, unless there is a market for miniscule outer celery stalks.  We trim off about 1/2 to 2/3 of the leaves, wash the whole thing, and pack it in a sealed container in our walk in cooler.  Sometimes we use a rubber band, sometimes we don’t.

The downside of field grown fall celery is that it needs to be harvested before really cold weather arrives.  Temperatures below 28 F will make the stalks get softer and sort of rubbery.  A very thin, papery “skin” will develop and will peel off the stalks, which is unattractive.  We had a low of 19 F about a week ago.  The difference between the celery that was covered and the celery that wasn’t is quite noticeable.  You can still eat the stuff that got frozen, but it is noticeably flexible.

Another project today was building a very low-tech low tunnel over the beets and carrots.  The used greenhouse we put up in the spring came with about 100 pieces of 8′ galvanized electrical conduit.  I think they were used for an irrigation system in their past life.  We don’t do any overhead irrigating in our greenhouses, so the conduit has been sitting in a pile.  Some time this summer it occurred to me that this conduit could be used to make low tunnels.

We don’t have a pipe bender, and I was reluctant to shell out any money for one, so I took a look at my farm SUV and decided that I could either thread the pipe through the tow hooks and bend it, or thread it through the hitch receiver and bend it there.  The tow hooks were really too far apart.  The hitch receiver worked better, especially after we took off the spare tire.  We put about 3 – 30 degree bends in each end of the pipe and pushed them into the ground by hand.  I won’t win any awards for the consistency of my pipe bending with this method, but the job is done and all we have to do is throw some spare scraps of greenhouse plastic over the hoops before any more hard freezes.

Photos forthcoming.  Maybe tomorrow.

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