April 27, 2014 in Features

In the Garden: Tango celery excels in short season

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Susan Mulvihill photo

These celery plants grew to 18 inches tall last summer.
(Full-size photo)

When it comes to growing veggies and flowers, I love trying new things. Last year, celery was a new crop that performed well for me. I’m growing it again this year and have added tomatillos to the list as well.

Most folks would rather head for the grocery store to purchase their celery, but after reading about Tango – a variety that is supposed to grow particularly well in northern climates – I just had to try it last year.

Tango also tolerates hot, dry conditions – perfect for Spokane. The seeds are widely available. They’re also very small. When I planted them on March 15, I had to get out my reading glasses to confirm I was actually dropping a seed into each cell of the planting flat.

They germinated in about a week, and the seedlings are tiny. It’s hard to believe something so small will turn into 18-inch-tall celery plants, but from last year’s experience, I know they will.

Celery might seem like it should be a cool-season crop – after all, it’s a member of the carrot family – but it can’t be planted outside until the danger of frost has passed. That’s usually around mid-May in the Inland Northwest. Before transplanting them outdoors, I’ll add organic matter like compost or shredded leaves to their bed.

I space the plants 8 inches apart. They require about 80 days to reach maturity, but it’s possible to start harvesting before that. To prolong their productivity, I pick individual stalks rather than the whole plant.

Late in the season, the stalks on my plants started getting a bit pithy, so I intend to harvest everything earlier this year and freeze what we don’t eat fresh. To freeze for later use in soups or casseroles, we chop them into small chunks and put them into freezer bags.

I’ve never grown tomatillos before, but after learning they are the prime ingredient for salsa verde, I decided to experiment. I was surprised to learn that most varieties mature in 60 to 70 days.

Tomatillos are a warm-season crop with cherry-like fruits that are wrapped in a papery husk. The fruits are used in Mexican cooking and should be interesting to grow.

I selected the variety called Toma Verde, but there’s also De Milpa and Purple which, surprise, has purple skin. I started them indoors from seed on March 15. They don’t look like much yet but will eventually grow up to 4 feet tall.

I’ve read you should plant them 2 weeks after you would normally set out your tomato plants – which means sometime in the first half of June in this region – and let them sprawl on the ground rather than support them with a stake or cage.

I intend to add organic matter and bone meal to their bed and cover the soil with red plastic mulch to increase the temperature. I’ll cut “x’s” into the plastic to plant the seedlings, which will need to be spaced 2  1/2 feet apart. My resources tell me to plant them deeply, just like you would tomato seedlings.

Once they’re up and growing, they won’t require any fertilization. You can tell the tomatillos are ripe when their husks are dry and split.

This fall, I’ll let you know how the experiment went and if the plants earned a spot in next year’s garden.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached at inthegarden@live.com.Visit her blog at susansinthegarden. blogspot.com and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ susansinthegarden.


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