I have fond memories of snack time as a child, munching on “ants on a log.” Those familiar with the treat know there are three main components: the ants (chocolate chips and/or raisins), the glue to stick the ants on the log (usually peanut butter), and the log (a crisp piece of celery).
The star of the snack, a crisp piece of celery, has been produced commercially since the early 1800s. Celery is part of the Apiaceae (or carrot) family. These plants are known for their hollow stems, taproots, and flat-topped flower clusters. Other familiar plants in this family are dill, fennel, and cumin.
Growing celery at home may be difficult, but the harvest serves as an excellent reward for anyone up for the challenge. There are two main types of celery: Trenching and Self-blanching. Trenching celery requires extra care to ensure the stalks are protected, whereas self-blanching does not. The taste of self-blanching celery may be a little more muted, but is generally easier to grow. Two recommended self-blanching varieties are Utah and Pascal.
For the home grower, celery does best when started indoors, 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost date, for a spring crop. A fall crop can also be started indoors, 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost date. Transplant outdoors once temperatures are above 50F during the day, and no lower than 40F during the night. Celery's three main needs are: cool weather, water, and rich, organic matter soil.
Celery can be harvested by removing the outer stalk layer leaving the rest of the plant to continue growth. The plant can also be left to grow up to 3-inches in diameter and then all the stalks harvested as a whole. Cool temperatures and water will continue the growth of the plant.
The rooty, stalk structured plant with leafy greens has many uses. The stalks are regularly consumed and used in everything from stir-fry to broth, or simply consumed raw. Less popular, but still edible, are the leafy greens on the top of the plant. Those can be added to salads or minced and used as a seasoning. If looking for new and innovative celery uses, Taste of Home has 28 Non-Boring Ways to Use Celery.
Photo Credit: Brian Talbot, Flickr (1) & Buuz, Wikimedia (2)