How Our Celery Is Grown
Celery is included in the Umbelliferae family of plants which includes carrots, parsley, the wild carrot and celeriac in addition to celery. Celery is a biennial, so for seed production the plant is grown one year, it overwinters or goes dormant and then produces a flower head and seeds. Most of the seeds for the Michigan growers is produced in California.
Celery seed is fairly small and flat, there are 650,000 to 1,200,000 seeds per pound. The seeds are coated with a white clay material to make them larger and easier to handle. Michigan growers start planting seeds in their greenhouses early or mid-February and continue planting through May and sometimes mid-June. The seeds are planted in plastic trays divided into many cells; a 288 count is very common. The early plants grow in the greenhouses until field conditions merit transplanting, usually the 10th of April or up to ten days later. The young plants spindly. The earliest celery takes about eight weeks to grow to transplant size in the greenhouses, as the days get longer and warmer the time is shortened to six weeks or less.
Early planted celery is covered with sheet plastic strips and vents in them or with spun bond plastic sheeting over wide strips of the field. This is done only for the earliest celery but not all growers cover celery. The normal growing season for celery is 80 - 95 days from transplanting depending on the growing conditions and variety. Celery is planted by a machine with each plant being placed individually in a cup on the planter by a person. Typically planters are built to plant two or four rows at a time; they could be built for more if necessary. Plant density is 32-42,000 plants per acre so persons on a machine are kept busy during planting.
During the growing season celery requires about an inch of water a week, rainfall is often supplemented by irrigation. Celery needs to be kept moist all the time but cannot be flooded for very long before significant damage occurs. Fields are scouted for insects and diseases and prescribed sprays are made when needed.
Celery is mechanically harvested into wagons and taken to a packing shed where the celery is trimmed, washed and packed into containers by size. The celery is then put in cold storages or vacuum tubes for cooling immediately and then shipped fresh to customers.
Growers typically pack their celery in wax treated corrugated cartons. The celery is packed according to size with the following specifications:
Celery production is a high risk crop to grow for the following reasons:
- 24 count size, naked or sleeved
- 30 count size, naked or sleeved
- 36 count size, naked or sleeved
- 12, 18 or 24 count hearts
- RPC special pack upon request
In Michigan nearly all celery is grown on muck soils, for good buffering of nutrients and moisture. Typically this land is lowland and is at risk for flooding. Growers mitigate the risk of flooding by tiling their field to help with drainage. Celery growers love to farm and get a lot of satisfaction out of having a good quality crop but it takes good yields and favorable market prices to keep them in business.
- Labor intensive from seeding to packing
- Exposure to a long growing season in low land susceptible to flooding
- High market volatility