This section is from the book "Commercial Gardening Vol4", by John Weathers (the Editor). Also available from Amazon: Commercial Gardening, A Practical & Scientific Treatise For Market Gardeners.
The cultivation of this vegetable (Apium graveolens) has undergone a veritable revolution during the last twenty years. Time was when large gangs of men might be seen in early morning or late evening in the market gardens near London carrying water pots from which out of large store tanks they watered the rows or beds of Celery. It was planted in rows 5 ft. apart, up the middles of which a crop of early Turnips or Cauliflowers was taken. The plants had been raised on manure-heated pits, and had been carefully pricked out and constantly watered. The cultivations were all done with the spade, and from the time that the first spit was drawn to the time it was "closed" in, the cost of landing was £14 per acre. Where the method of cultivation was in bed, the mould was thrown out to the depth of half a spit from beds 4 ft. 6 in. wide, leaving alleys of the same width. On the raised mould of the alleys a crop of Radishes or Lettuce was taken. The Celery was planted in the beds in rows 1 ft. apart, planted crosswise with plants 8 in. apart. The moulding was done with boards secured at each end in trough fashion, leaving an aperture at the bottom for the soil to escape. The board was carefully placed between the rows, filled with well-pulverized soil, and then lifted out, leaving the soil behind. This operation was repeated until the requisite length was obtained, the outsides of the beds being of course carefully landed up each time.
CELERY BEING SOLD IN COVENT GARDEN MARKET.
The land for the rows or beds was prepared for the Celery by digging in a good coat of manure.
The crop thus grown was lifted in winter and taken into the packing shed, railways often being used for the purpose, where the heads of Celery were trimmed in root and leaf, washed, and bound into bundles of eight heads to a bundle, the binder grading it as he went, into "best" and "seconds". The bundles were packed in "barges" - a basket now unknown on the market, and which cost 10s. 6d. each - each "barge" took twelve bundles, and the price of the best was frequently 21s. the twelve. Some growers took advantage of nearness to the Thames or other stream to devise means of flooding the alleys of the Celery, and thus saved the hand labour with the water pot.
A little "bed" Celery is still grown by some market gardeners near London for early autumn work, but the culture as it was twenty years ago is now practically extinct. The cause is the development of the cultivation in the Fens of Lincoln, where the black sandy land and the abundance of water make ideal conditions with which artificial arrangements cannot compete. The moulding is done with the plough, and all the expensive spade labour has been done away with.
The Celery, thus grown, is sent all over the country in truck loads, done up in bundles of twelve and sold in its dirty state untrimmed and unwashed, and the price is 9d. to 1s. a bundle. The seedsman has evolved a type of Celery to suit the culture, which grows rank and strong, but the coarse-flavoured stringy leaf stems produced will not bear comparison with the stringless, nutty, mild-flavoured vegetable which was the Celery of the oldfashioned market gardener.
The "dirty" Celery, as it is called, has given rise to a new industry. Bundles off the railway trucks are taken to cellars near the London markets, and there the heads are trimmed, washed, and bound into bundles as used to be done by the market gardener, and then sold again on the markets. Perhaps the public taste may some day come back to the old type of Celery; then the culture must proceed on the lines indicated above, but it had better not be attempted except where plenty of water exists.
For those who make up their minds to grow it, the seed of Celery must be sown on heat in January or February, the seedling plants being pricked out in beds and finally planted in the beds or rows in May.
Plenty of manure must be provided. The first two mouldings can be managed with the plough, but the mould must be pushed in to the Celery before each operation with flat pushers or backs of wooden rakes, so as to keep the stems together and the leaves up.
A white Celery is often pushed on so as to be on the market in August and September. Bibby's Defiance White is good for this purpose. Glayworth Prize Pink and Leicester Red are two varieties also largely grown. [W. G. L].