This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
There are two principal celery-growing districts in California,-Orange County, which is situated in the swamp lands south of Los Angeles; and the northern district, which includes the peat or swamp lands along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers between Sacramento and Stockton.
Several varieties of celery have been tested in this state, but the Golden Self-blanching is most popular and profitable.
In California the seed is sown in the open ground, but, owing to its extremely small size, it is difficult to get a good stand unless the ground is well pulverized. It is commonly estimated that enough plants may be grown on 1 acre of seed-bed to plant 20 acres in the field. To produce healthy, vigorous plants, heavy watering is the rule at first, but as soon as the plants have begun to grow the quantity of water is reduced, and it should never be allowed to stand on the surface of the bed. In order to accomplish this the land must be well drained. The seed is usually sown in March, April or May.
Although not nearly so much water is required for the plants in the field as in the seed-bed, celery plants cannot stand drought at any stage of their growth; a well-controlled irrigation system is imperative, except where the water-table is close to the surface.
Good drainage is as important as irrigation, for, if water is allowed to stand in the field even for a short time, the plants will suffer seriously. As most of the California celery land is low and the ordinary drainage is poor, an extended system of tile drainage has been laid in nearly all celery fields, especially in Orange County, to prevent losses from standing water.
When the plants are large enough to be transplanted, they are pulled from the seed-beds, placed in tin pans and hauled to the field, where they are planted 6 inches apart in the furrows 3 1/2 feet apart. The depth of the furrows in which the plants are set is somewhat varied, depending on the soil-moisture, and the size of the plants. The average depth is from 3 to 5 inches.
After the plants have been set in the field for about three weeks or a month and have recovered from the transplanting, the field is "crowded." This operation consists in moving the earth away from the young plants so that they will have more air around them and to kill what weeds have grown so close to the plants that it is impossible to reach them with the cultivator.
As the earth between the rows of plants is left in a ridge after the plants have been "crowded," a large wooden roller, which extends across several rows, is now used to flatten down these ridges and to pack the soil more firmly. The roller is used only when the plants are small, otherwise they would be injured by being crushed. If the plants have grown so large that there is danger of injury by this rolling of the middles, the ridges are smoothed down by the cultivator.
When the plants are 12 to 15 inches tall, earth from between the rows is drawn up to them. This is termed "splitting." This should be done carefully, for, if the earth is put too close or too high up on the plants, they will become tender and weak, especially if the weather is hot. The object of "splitting" is gradually to encourage the plants to grow tall and straight instead of spreading out. This operation is repeated twice in the season, the first time when the plants are 14 to 16 inches tall and the second time just before banking. This last "splitting" also aids blanching.
Practically all the celery grown in California is banked with earth for blanching. Banking is done when the celery is reaching its maturity and is nearly ready for shipment. This is the last field operation before the crop is cut. When the celery is banked for the first time, the earth is not drawn very high on the plants, but each time the field is banked the soil is drawn higher so as firmly to hold the leaves together and in an upright position. If celery that has been banked for the last time is not harvested shortly, it will soon become "punky." The length of time that it can safely be left in the bank depends upon the character of the soil, the weather conditions, and upon the condition of the plants themselves. Celery on sandy soil will keep much longer in the bank than on heavy clay loam or peat soil. If the celery has not matured or if the weather is hot or moist, its keeping quality will be injured. Holding too long in the bank will result in a wilted and "punky" product.
When the celery is ready to harvest, a cutting machine is used which cuts off the plants just below the crown, leaving a few roots attached. The plants are then lifted and shaken from soil, trimmed and thrown in piles by laborers, who are usually Japanese. Another gang of men then place the plants in crates, marking on each crate the number of dozens it contains. More men follow, nail the crates securely, load them on wagons which transport them to the railroad siding, where they are ready for shipment and distribution to the various markets in the United States and Canada.
The celery is packed in the fields in crates 22-by-24-inch base and 18 to 24 inches in height, according to the quality. One of these crates holds from five to ten dozen celery plants. An ordinary car holds from 160 to 165 of these crates. The shipping of the crop starts in October and continues through March, but the bulk of the crop is harvested during November, December and January. The earlier shipments come into competition with celery from Michigan and other middle western states, and the later shipments come into competition with celery from Florida. A very efficient system of marketing has been developed by means of various associations of the growers which have representatives in the leading markets in the United States so that the celery is shipped to points of greatest demand.
The most important disease in California is the late blight (Septoria petroselini variety apii), which has done an immense amount of damage in the past but is now handled successfully by most of the growers. Spray with bordeaux mixture. For early blight (Cercospora apii) keep plants growing thriftily and spray with bordeaux. (For a detailed account of the diseases of celery in California see Bulletin No. 208, published by the University of California.) Stanley S. Rogers.