Saving Celery Seeds – How To Harvest Celery Seeds

Saving Celery Seeds – How To Harvest Celery Seeds

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Celery seed is a common kitchen staple used in salads, dressings and other recipes. It is available in supermarkets but think how much more flavor the fresh seed from your celery would hold. Saving celery seeds just requires a little timing and knowledge of the life cycle of this plant. Here are some tricks on how to harvest celery seeds, allowing you to capture the intense flavor of the spice when fresh.

Celery Seed Harvesting

Celery seed has a long history of use as a medicament and spice. As an herb, it was thought to help with digestion and appetite, cure colds and flu, enhance liver and spleen health, treat arthritis and even help reduce water retention. Today, it is primarily used as a seasoning. When you know how to save celery seeds properly, fresh seed can last for up to 5 years. That is a long lived product in the spice cupboard that doesn’t cost a thing and may enhance your health.

Celery is a biennial plant. That means that it won’t flower until the second year and you certainly can’t start harvesting celery seeds until then. During the wait for seed bearing flowers, you can harvest the flavorful stalks, just don’t take the central stalk which is where the flower will form.

In the second year, the central stalk will thicken and an umbel, or umbrella shaped flower, will appear. The umbel is created out of numerous tiny florets on short stems. Each floret is a tiny white flower that collectively creates a burst of stars. Bees and butterflies are quite taken with the blooms, which resemble Queen Anne’s lace.

As time marches on, the white petals will begin to fall off and the ovary will swell. This is where the seed is developing.

How to Harvest Celery Seeds

Wait until the seeds dry and turn tan to brown before celery seed harvesting. The swollen ovaries develop a carapace that is hard when ripe and the color deepens. The seeds will have vertical ridges around the edges that are lighter in color than the rest of the seed.

You know it is time to harvest when the seeds fall off at the slightest touch or breeze. Harvesting celery seeds with the most flavors relies upon careful observance to ensure the seed is ripe.

When the flower head is dry and the individual seeds are hard and dark colored, cut the bloom carefully and shake the seed into a bag. Alternatively, bend the flower stalk into a bag and shake. This reduces the seed lost during cutting the head.

Once celery seed harvesting is finished, it is time to store the seed to preserve the freshness and flavor.

How to Save Celery Seeds

To save whole seeds, pick out any flower debris and make sure seeds are dry before packing them into a container. Place seeds in a glass container with a tight fitting lid. Label and date the seeds.

Store the seeds in a cool, dark location for up to 5 years. Most cooks use celery seed whole but you can also choose to grind it. Use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to make fresh ground celery seed, which disperses more evenly in a dish.

Saving celery seeds from the garden is a great way to harvest the natural, fresh flavors of the seasoning and tastes more intense than previously jarred seed from the store. Keeping those celery plants into the second year still provides you with tender peripheral ribs for fresh eating as well as the starry burst of flowers. Harvesting celery seeds is just another boon in the life cycle of the humble celery plant.

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Not only is garden celery better-tasting than store-bought types, but also it’s less chemically-laden. In cool spring and summer regions, plant celery in early spring. In warm spring and summer regions, plant celery in mid to late summer for harvest in late autumn or early winter. Here’s our advice on sowing, growing, and harvesting celery.

For us, celery is a staple in the garden because it’s so useful in the kitchen—for stews, stirfries, soups, and salads.

This cool-weather crop requires 16 weeks of cool weather to come to harvest. Celery is considered a hardy biennial, but it’s grown as an annual which is mainly grown for its edible 12- to 18-inch stalks. It’s not difficult to grow celery but you do need start celery from seed indoors transplants are hard to find and do not always succeed.

There are two types of celery. Trenching celery needs soil mounded up against the stems as they grow to produce crisp, pale stems. To make this easier trenching celery is typically planted into trenches, hence the name, but some gardeners aid this blanching process using cardboard tubes, pipes or collars. The alternative is to grow self-blanching celery, which requires none of these extra steps. This makes it a lot easier to grow, and the stems are just as tasty!

Enjoy our video all about growing celery and then follow the planting, growing, and harvesting instruction below

Planting Dates for CELERY


Soil Preparation

  • Select a site that receives full direct sunlight.
  • Celery needs compost-enriched soil. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches with a garden fork or tiller. Mix 2 to 4 inches of aged manure and/or compost into the soil. Or, work in some 5-10-10 fertlizer. The soil should retain moisture, bordering on wet but still draining.
  • Celery prefers a soil with a pH between 5.8 and 6.8. Get a soil test if you’re not sure of your soil pH.
  • It’s important for celery to grow in moisture retentive soil that doesn’t drain too quickly. Wild celery grows in boggy ground, so you’ll need to ensure consistent moisture for this thirsty vegetable, while a sunny spot should ensure good, even growth.

Sowing Seeds Indoors

  • Due to a long growing season, it’s best to start celery seed indoors. For a spring crop, start seeds 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost date. (For a fall crop, start seeds in time to transplant seedlings 10 to 12 weeks before the first autumn frost date.)
  • Note: The seeds are tiny, so you’ll need to sow with care and a keen eye.
  • Before planting, soak seeds in warm water overnight. This will speed germination.
  • Fill seed flats or pots with good-quality seed starting mix then gently firm it level.
  • Press soaked seeds into seed-starting soil to get good germination do not cover with soil. The easiest way to sow the seeds is to carefully tap the packet above the surface of the potting mix and watch carefully as the seeds fall. Ideally you want them to fall about an inch apart. Once you’re done, firm the seeds into place.
  • Cover starter trays/pots with plastic wrap to retain moisture. Germination should occur in about a week but it can take up to three weeks be patient.
  • Soon after seedlings appear, place a fluorescent grow light 3 inches above them for 16 hours a day (plants need dark, too).
  • Maintain an ambient temperature of 70° to 75°F during the day and 60° to 65°F at night.
  • Mist regularly.
  • When seedlings are 2 inches tall, transplant them to individual peat pots or to deeper flats with new potting soil. In flats, set the plants at least 2 inches apart.
  • Harden off seedlings before transplanting by reducing water slightly and putting them outdoors for a couple of hours each day.

Transplants in the Ground

  • Plant celery outdoors when the soil temperature reaches at least 50°F and nighttime temperatures don’t dip down below 40°F. (Cold weather after planting can cause bolting.)
  • Begin acclimatizing celery to the outdoors two weeks before planting: Leave your plants outside for progressively longer each day, taking care to bring them back under cover if frost threatens.
  • Work organic compost into the soil prior to planting. (Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.) Or mix in fertilizer (about one pound of 5-10-10 per 30 square feet).
  • Water thoroughly.

Introduction to growing celery

Crunchy green celery is a familiar vegetable to most of us, but it seems like it’s not commonly planted in backyard gardens. I’m here to change that! I love having celery growing in my garden, both for its usefulness in cooking and its sheer beauty. It grows one-to-two feet tall and the celery leaves are a beautiful foliage. It’s a great addition to front yard gardens.

Celery varieties

There are not a lot of common named varieties of celery. Unlike crops like tomatoes and beans that come in more colors and options that you can count, you won’t be faced with such daunting decisions when growing celery.

  • Conquistador tolerates more heat than some varieties.
  • Tango has less fibrous stalks than Conquistador, and some say a better flavor.
  • Chinese pink celery will give you something to talk about with its pretty stalks.

How to plant celery

Celery seedlings aren’t commonly available at garden centers, so you’ll probably have to grow it from seed. Celery should be started from seed 10-12 weeks before the average last frost date for spring planting. For a fall harvest, start seed during the summer, 10-12 weeks before the first fall frost. Soaking seeds overnight before planting them can improve germination. Celery seeds are small and are best sprinkled onto seed starter mix and gently pressed into the soil there’s no need to cover the seeds.

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Plant seedlings out in the garden when the soil reaches 50 degrees and nighttime temps remain above 40. Allow about 10″ between plants, adding mulch around the base of each plant to help retain moisture.

If (like mine) your climate allows you to direct sow celery, I’ve had good luck with broadcasting seeds over a fresh layer of compost.

Requirements for growing celery

Celery is best planted in the spring or fall it doesn’t do well in the heat of the summer. It takes 130-140 days to mature plan your planting accordingly, so that it matures before the weather becomes unbearably hot. This is not a good option for veggie gardens facing drought conditions. Celery is a thirsty crop that demands regular water. Without it, it can become stringy and hollow. Still edible, certainly, but not lovely.

Plant celery in nutrient-rich soil — it’s a heavy feeder. Add a side-dressing of compost near the base of the plants every three weeks or so.

Combating pests and other problems

Homegrown celery needs a consistent source of water or the stalks will grow hollow. All that moisture, though, is a siren call for slugs and snails who like to hide in the tightly clumped stalks.

How to grow celery in containers

Celery is shallow rooted, and perfectly suited to container gardening. Choose a container that’s about 10″-to-18″ inches in diameter. A pot on the smaller end of this spectrum is large enough for one or two celery plants. Choose a large one and you can grow three or four.

Fill your container with a rich soil. If you use a potting mix, incorporate some good quality compost. Transplant seedlings or direct sow seeds following the guidelines above.

Harvesting celery

This veggie is one that fits in the “cut and come again” category. Commercial growers harvest the entire plant, cutting it off at the base. Home gardeners can harvest from a single celery crop as long as the plant doesn’t succumb to hot weather. In my mild climate, I can grow and harvest celery in this manner all season long. It’s easy to pop out to the garden and snip off several stalks as needed for recipes. This makes for less waste, too, since you’ll harvest just what you need. No celery going limp in the produce bin!

To harvest celery, use scissors to snip off the mature stalks on the outer portion of the plant. Take just what you need for your recipe and leave the rest of the plant in place new stalks will continue to emerge. To harvest celery at the end of its season, use a sharp knife to cut the entire plant away from the roots.

Wintering over

Celery is a biennial. In zones 5-6 and above, celery can be wintered over.

Using celery

I’ve found that my homegrown celery has great flavor, but can tend toward being a bit tough for fresh eating. Which really? Is fine with me because while I use celery in recipes a lot, I rarely eat it raw.

Celery is an ingredient in the holy trinity and mirepoix. These cooking terms refer to combinations of vegetables used as a base in so many recipes. The holy trinity is commonly used in Cajun food and features celery, onions, and bell pepper. A mirepoix is often used as a base for soups, and includes celery, onions, and carrots.

Are celery leaves edible?

Absolutely! They’re flavorful and nutritious and it would be silly to discard them. I tend to use the entire stalk all at once, chopping everything to add to recipes. If you have a recipe that would be weird with celery leaves in it (though I’m not sure what that would be), remove the leaves from the stalk and save them for another recipe.

How to Plant Celery

Choose a sunny site that is convenient to water, because celery requires constant moisture. If possible, allow space between rows for a shallow trench that can be flooded with water in dry weather. Dig in a 1-inch layer of rich compost and a standard application of a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer, such as dried poultry manure, and water well. Wait at least three days before planting seedlings 12 to 14 inches apart. Before hot weather comes, mulch between plants with grass clippings or another organic mulch to keep the soil cool and moist.

Variety Maintenance

Apium graveolens is insect-pollinated, and the recommended isolation distance between varieties—including varieties of the different crop types—is 800 feet to one-half mile (244 to 805 m). Gardeners who plan to exchange seeds with others or who garden in settings that do not provide many landscape barriers may choose to use the upper end of this range as a starting point when determining an isolation distance. Large-scale commercial seed growers isolate varieties by 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3.2 km).

Given the biennial nature of the species, it is uncommon to see it flowering in gardens, which makes it relatively easy to grow one variety in isolation. Other options for controlled pollina­tion are limited for this insect-pollinated species because caging requires the use of introduced pollinators. Typically grow­ing to only 3 feet (91 cm) tall, Apium graveolens plants are smaller in stature than some of their Apiaceae relatives, but they still have a multi­branched habit with numerous umbels blooming in succession, which makes isolation by flower­ing time impractical.

Apium graveolens is self-compatible, but growing a large population helps to ensure a suc­cessful seed set and to conserve genetic diversity within a variety. Viable seeds can be collected from 5 plants or fewer, though 20 to 50 plants is the recommended population size for seed saving. The upper end of this range helps prevent inbreeding depression and is preferable if a gardener’s intent is to save seeds for multiple generations or to share seeds with others. For those saving seeds for genetic preservation, a pop­ulation size of at least 80 plants is recommended. As some loss can be expected from rot or disease during overwintering, it may be necessary to grow more plants than the desired population size.

Off-type and especially weak plants should be rogued before seed production seed crops of celery may also be selected based on stalk color and plant habit.

Planting and Harvesting Your Biennial Vegetables

In the spring once the ground has thawed, you can plant your vegetables, putting them in the ground so that the top or crown of the plant is at the surface. For planting cabbages, if the ball seems to be very tight, it might be helpful to cut an X at the top to help the flower stalks to grow.

Once your vegetables are planted, you simply water them like any other plant and wait for the flowers to grow. Then, once the flowers have gone to seed, you can harvest the seeds, dry them, and store them for the next season.

You can store the seeds in paper bags or envelopes (making sure to label them so you remember which seeds go to which type of plant), and then they will be all set for planting in your garden the following spring.

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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.