Are you a fan of celery? Done right, it’s satisfyingly scented with a pleasant texture that leaves you wanting more.
But it can be difficult for the home gardener to achieve with a little extra caution.
Done wrong, celery is either too watery and stringy to enjoy, or so bitter you’re tempted to spit it out into a napkin.
Cooking can reduce its bitterness, but not the kind of blanching we’re talking about here.
We link to sellers to help you find relevant products. If you make a purchase through one of our links, we may earn a commission.
Instead of heat treating them after harvest and robbing the stalks of their crunch, this article will teach you how to apply a horticultural technique to your crops that will improve texture and flavor.
You won’t want to skip this step!
So, now that you’ve started your celery in your garden, it’s time to figure out how to blanch it so you can enjoy the crisp, flavorful stalks to the fullest.
I know I can’t be the only one who hates cooking life with fresh vegetables.
After blanching, your homegrown celery will retain its texture and flavor, even when slightly cooked in a soup or stew.
What is blanching?
The word “blanche” first came into common use in England in the 1400s. Derived from the French words blanc and blancire, it means “to whiten.”
In many types of plants, such as cabbage, blanching occurs naturally. Have you ever noticed that the outer leaves of cabbage are greener than the inner layers of the plant?
This happens because the sun cannot reach those inner layers. The outer leaves act as a barrier, preventing photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll.
Blanching is the practice of covering your plant stems two to three weeks before harvesting, to limit sun exposure.
Bleached parts of any plant are pale yellow and lack the vibrant green color of unbleached plants, and there is a difference in flavor as well.
You really notice this in salty, bitter plants like celery. Blanching reduces the bitterness, allowing the plant’s natural sweetness to shine through.
Celery is one of the many plants that benefit from blanching in the garden. This technique is also used to improve the flavor of Belgian endive, asparagus, leeks, cauliflower and rhubarb.
So if you are struggling with the bitterness of your desi ajwain, then the time has come to give it a try.
First Rule of Blanching Celery: Wait
You may be eager to whitewash your crops the moment little stalks start poking out of the earth.
But first you need to thin your plants, so there should be no more than one plant every six inches, to give the roots plenty of room to grow and thrive.
Then, you need to wait.
And wait, and wait, until your stalks are two or three weeks away from being ready to harvest.
Since the estimated time for celery maturity is 130-140 days, you’ll want to make a note on your phone or garden planning notebook so you don’t miss your chance to whitewash your crop.
Once your celery is about three weeks away from harvest, you can blanch it.
Begin blanching three weeks for milder, sweeter celery, or two weeks before harvest to retain a slightly stronger flavor and more robust stalks. Keep in mind that the greener the stalk, the more nutrients it contains.
So yes, if you blanch the stalks, they will result in less nutrient content. But it’s still rich in fiber, vitamins K1 (the plant-based form of vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone), C, and A, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.
And it’s so much tastier than bitter, uncooked celery!
Clean Up Your Celery Patch
Get out a pair of garden shears or pruning shears and cut off any yellow or broken stalks. Keep these to add to your compost pile.
This little cleanup will make it easier to wrap your chosen blanching material around your celery plants.
In-ground plants should be smooth and green, and spaced at least four to six inches apart. Now it’s time for the next step: Blanching!
Choose Your Blanching Method
There are three basic ways to blanch your celery. We’ll cover each of these here, and you can choose what’s best for you.
For this method, you’ll need a stack of newspapers and some twine or gardening tape.
This method is ideal if you have a small urban garden or if you don’t have the extra space for something like mounding, which we’ll look at next.
Photo via Alamy.
To blanch your celery stalks with newspaper, first tie the stalks loosely together just below the leaves. Using a bow knot will make it easier to remove, plus you can reuse the string!
Wrap a page or two of newspaper around the stalk. The top of the newspaper should end just below the leaves – you still want the leaves to see the sun so the plant can continue to grow.
You may have to cut or fold the paper to make sure it fits snugly on the stem.
Tie more twine or gardening tape firmly around the newspaper to hold it in place, and voila! Done. The newspaper will block sunlight from reaching the stems and they will turn pale green.
Water your plant as you normally would, but try to avoid saturating the newspaper.
The newspaper may get a little wet, but it will only be there for about three weeks, so you don’t need to worry too much about it.
If you live in an area with heavy rainfall, you may want to replace the newspaper after each day of rain or use a different method.
You can also try using pieces of cardboard or aluminum foil instead of newspaper, being careful not to rip it as you secure it in place.
Last thing you want to do? Remember to harvest your celery!
When about three weeks have passed and your stalks are at least six inches long, undo the bow, set aside newspapers to reuse if they’re still in good shape, and dip home in hummus. Enjoy made of celery stalks.
Photo by Meghan Yager.
You can find my favorite hummus recipes on our sister site, Foodle.
If you sowed all the seeds at once, they will probably be ready at the same time or within a few days of each other.
Quickly measure the length of each plant’s stalk by placing a ruler on the outside of the newspaper and measuring from the base of the plant to where the leaves begin, you will know when the stalks are ready to pick.
This method requires a hand cultivator and a trowel (or a shovel and rake, depending on the size of your garden) and some additional topsoil.
You can also use mulching materials such as wood chips, bark, straw, or dry autumn leaves that you’ve saved.
Do you have a lot of celery to grow and a garden big enough to support it? The mounding method of blanching may suit you perfectly.
All you have to do for this method is to rake the soil or mulch around the stalks until leaves begin to form.
Eventually you will have rows of stunted stems with only the leaves exposed. As long as you water the stalks at the base of each plant and keep the mound relatively dry, there shouldn’t be an increase in pests or disease to watch out for.
You may need to check the mounds every couple of days and re-form them as needed to keep up with plant growth.
You can probably tell that this labor-intensive method can get tiresome if you’re growing a large number of plants. But just think of the crisp, juicy stalks you’ll be able to enjoy at harvest time!
waxed milk cartons
With a waxed half-gallon milk carton and a pair of sharp scissors at the ready, this method is perfect for the recycling-minded among us.
Photo by Laura Melchor.
First of all, you have to thoroughly wash the inside of the carton.
This technique may be my favorite, and I use it in my garden. I usually start saving milk cartons during the winter months so I have a good stock ready to go once gardening season starts in Alaska.
Photo by Laura Melchor.
To blanch your stalks from a milk carton, you’ll first need to cut off the top of the carton and slice off the bottom square to remove it. To measure the height, set the carton against your stalk and mark where the stalk ends. Cut it too.
Carefully slide the carton over your celery leaves and stalks, using one carton for each plant. Make sure the top of the carton is below the leaves, as you don’t want to cover them.
Photo by Laura Melchor.
This is by far the easiest method, but you have to save your milk cartons beforehand. As always, remember to note when they’re ready to harvest, and get ready to enjoy your fresh, crisp celery.
Enjoy your delicious, tender blanched stalks
Blanching celery takes a little elbow grease, but once you do the necessary work, you can sit back and watch your celery blanch (if you look).
Photo via Alamy.
Before you know it, it will be time to enjoy some tender, delicious stalks spread with hummus or peanut butter!
It may take a little trial and error before you find the length of blanching time that is right for your taste buds.
If your crop lacks flavor, you can try blanching again next year, starting 10 days before the next harvest instead of three weeks earlier.
On the other hand, for celery that is still very vigorous, next year you should plan to blanch four weeks before the anticipated harvest date.
Have you ever blanched celery in your garden before? What’s your favorite method? Do you have any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!
For more celery growing tips, we invite you to further read the following informative guides:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved. See our TOS for more details. Top photo via Alamy. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Claire Groom and Allison Sidhu.