Growing Celeriac ~ Tips From My Southern California Garden
To be honest, I can’t quite remember how celeriac came onto my radar, but I definitely had never seen one in the farmer’s markets here nor had I tasted one before. Celeriac’s unique shape intrigued me, it’s lack of popularity here in the US, and the fact that the entire plant can be used in the kitchen (stems, leaves, and bulbous root). You know I love to use my garden to grow things that are hard to find fresh or can be expensive. Once celeriac was on my radar, I did stumble upon some bulbs for sale at our grocery store (kind of near the parsnips and turnips) and they were missing their tops already! So, it was really incredible to grow these fun root veggies from seed and be able to learn about how they grow and get my hands on some, in their entirety, fresh from the dirt.
Move over celery! Celeriac is such a versatile Winter crop
First off, this article is not meant to be taken as expert advice because this was my first time growing celeriac! I’m just sharing my direct experiences and observations from my zone 10b garden.
As many of you know, growing in Southern California can just be very different. Seed packets don’t always tell you the proper times to start seedlings in mild Winter regions, so I decided to treat my celeriac as I would celery or other heat sensitive root crops that might bolt in our triple digit Summer heat. If you want to learn about my other favorite Winter garden crops or tips for growing a productive Winter garden in Southern California, you can read my guide HERE.
To my surprise, we enjoyed using the celeriac leaves and stems as substitutes for celery through the cool season. While I do grow celery, I liked the idea that celeriac provided a similar flavor for stock or soup with the added bonus of developing a bulbous root at the end of the season that is edible.
Related article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California
What’s the difference between celery, celeriac, or celery root? From what I’ve read, celeriac is also called “celery root.” It is considered a root vegetable, much like turnips, rutabagas, or parsnips. The main difference is that celeriac (or celery root) actually develops a bulbous root above the soil line that is edible. Meanwhile, we do not eat the roots of plain celery. I do have an article on growing celery if you are curious about the Easiest Way to Grow Celery.
Starting Celeriac From Seed
Like many crops I grow through the colder season, I started my seeds in Fall to give them a head start before the weather cooled down. Many Winter crops slow down their growth immensely in December/January, so it is important to start vegetables that have long maturation dates as early as August in our garden zone (zone 10b). PS: you can always look up your gardening zone by zipcode HERE.
I started my seeds as I do any other seed (see my basic seed starting guide if needed). A light and fluffy DIY seed starting mix (or store-bought organic mix) is important. Celeriac seeds are soooo tiny! I’m always amazed how these tiny seeds become such massive harvests. I sowed several little seeds in each cell with plans to thin them or separate them later for planting.
While other climates with snowy Winters should probably grow their celeriac in early Spring, I started mine for my Winter garden in August 2020. It might also be worth noting that some gardeners have reported certain varieties of celeriac grow better than others. The variety I grew this past season was ‘prinz’ from Renee’s Garden Seeds.
Celeriac likes full sun (which is another reason I wanted to grow it during our cooler months here). In Summer it simply gets too hot to grow certain vegetables in full sun.
Loamy, rich soil that is full of organic matter is perfect for celeriac. I amended my beds like I always do for my vegetables and you can read about my entire process and recommendations for soil in How to Amend Your Soil Organically.
Water, water, water! During the season I noticed that celeriac has a pretty shallow root system. There were small, feathery type roots close to the top of the soil, so it would easily dry out. Keep them well watered.
Mulch! With such shallow root systems, I found this to be essential! I placed a good layer of mulch around the celeriac all season. If you want to know my favorite ways to mulch, check out Let’s Talk Mulch!
Give them space if you can. I had two celeriac patches in my garden. One was spaced out about 12 inches apart in two rows, and the other was 4 shorter rows (more like a square grid) where I spaced them about 6-8 inches apart. I observed that the celeriac with more space, grew bigger. Also, the plants in the middle of my square patch were smaller, which I assume is due to competition for light, space, and nutrients. Overall, my celeriac from either patch was still nice and delicious.
I read some articles that suggested allowing the celeriac seedlings to grow larger before transplanting, but my little seedlings were crowded in their little 6-packs. Instead of up-potting, I opted to simply transplant into the garden. I think this was a better decision. Obviously, if critters or pests are a big concern in your garden, I’d wait until your transplants are considerably bigger.
I simply drew my rows shallowly in the soil and created little trenches for my celeriac. Here’s an interesting observation about spacing: I planted my celeriac more closely in one bed (about 6-8 inches apart). This bed dried out less often because the celeriac leaves created a canopy to shade/mulch the soil surface, but the bulbs in the middle did not grow as big….probably due to less sunlight and space. In another bed I spaced my celeriac 12 inches apart and the bulbs grew larger—-while the soil did dry out a little more, mulch really helped me there.
Add mycorrhizae. To help prevent transplant shock, I sprinkled my favorite mycorrhizae into the planting hole or trench with my celeriac seedlings. You can always use code: randi15 for 15% off your entire purchase. LINK
Fill the trench or hole with soil and tamp the soil lightly to firm up around the base of the celeriac.
After transplanting, water thoroughly! As always, don’t transplant in a heatwave or in the middle of the day. Late afternoon is my favorite time because then the seedlings have time to adjust through the night.
Continue to water your small transplants almost daily (keep moist) until they have had time to adjust.
Related Article: Top 10 Flowers for a Potager Garden~ Calendula made my list!
Care throughout the growing season
Surprisingly, celeriac has a shallow system of almost feathery roots. Mulch really helped to keep the top layer of soil moist and protect this shallow root system even though I did have to keep my celeriac well-watered. It makes sense if you think about celery in general—-it is a crop with a very high water content, crisp, and cool.
As my celeriac grew larger I would occasionally use the outer branches as substitutes for celery. They snap off easily with a twist. The flavor is like a more pungent celery, so I used less than if I were cooking with regular celery.
Eventually, I could see the bulbs growing larger at the top of the soil! You’ll start to notice that, as the bulbous root matures, the outer branches start to bend and fall down naturally. I would snap them off and add them to my compost bins. Over time, this makes the bulb start to look more round and pronounced….it’s almost harvest time!
While I did not follow a specific fertilizer or feeding regimen, I did occasionally feed the celeriac some fish fertilizer, an organic all-purpose vegetable fertilizer, or Mycho Chum (get it HERE) to feed the microbes in the soil. I really should be better about keeping a schedule for garden feeding/fertilizing and what products I use, but I’m often testing products or using up what I have left that I forget to stay organized. Haha!
Harvesting (and lots of patience)
By this time, my celeriac had been in the ground for 7-8 months! Yes, it takes a looong time to grow! From what I read, you want to harvest your celeriac when it is anywhere from 3-4″ inches across. Mine actually grew a lot larger than that! I would say that it seems you could start harvesting at that smaller size and then let some grow bigger if you’d like. Not sure how different the flavor would be at different sizes, but with most crops there is value to harvesting at a younger size to avoid fibrous textures, bitterness, etc. I loved all the celeriac I tasted, so I think I harvested them at a good time.
Use a garden fork! Whew, these guys were not easy to loosen from the soil! Definitely use a garden fork (which is probably one of my favorite garden tools btw) to loosen up the nearby soil and lift up the huge, bulbous roots.
You’ll notice that your celeriac will have these longer, thicker roots coming off of it. Those are really easy to snap off and put into compost. After harvesting, I snapped those off to clean the celeriac off, and brushed off as much dirt as possible.
We don’t have root cellars here in Southern California, so I really had no choice but to store my celeriac in the fridge. I’m not really sure if there is a better way, but we took large plastic bags (we reuse ziploc or large plastic bags for many veggies) and put the celeriac in them, twisted them closed, and placed in the crisper drawer. Over the course of a week, I did notice a slight loss of crunchiness in storage, but if you are making a mash or soup it wouldn’t make a different at all.
Our fridge is small, so we cut the green tops off the celeriac and stored them separate from the roots. I don’t know if it is typical to do that. If you know, leave a comment below!
How to Prep & Eat Celeriac
We tried our harvest many different ways to truly appreciate and enjoy this cool vegetable. The flavor is very much like celery, but almost more pungent with a slight hint of apple. There’s also an earthy quality.
You can eat celeriac raw, roasted, mashed, pureed, and so much more! My favorite way was roasted in the oven (at 425 degrees F) with other root vegetables—-like sweet potatoes, turnips, potatoes—-and tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme, garlic, and sage! It’s the perfect balance of sweet and earthy.
To prep celeriac for a recipe, simply cut the top and bottom off so you have two flat sides. Place one flat side down. Carefully use a vegetable peeler or knife to peel the sides and all around the root. That’s it!
If you plan to try the celeriac raw, definitely slice it thinly! I tried a random recipe that used celery root, apple, fennel, and a vinaigrette. It was good, but I’m not sharing the exact recipe because it could have been better.
One evening I made a roasted pork loin and did a celery root and potato mash. Lots of milk and butter! It was delicious!
For a vegetarian option, we made fritters using grated celeriac, carrot, potato, and honestly whatever else we decided to add! Whip up some dipping sauces, and you’ve got a great vegetarian meal.
Last but not least, here are 3 recipes I still plan to try but haven’t gotten to yet:
Celeriac Soup from RecipeTinEats
Apple Celery Root Gratin from a Spicy Perspective
Celery Root Pancakes w/Chipotle Crema and Cilantro from Rick Bayless
And that concludes my foray into growing celeriac for the first time in Southern CA (Orange County). I hope, if anything, this encourages you to always try something new in your garden—-even if you haven’t seen it before or have no idea what you are doing. Ideally, I hope you add celeriac to your Winter gardens when you go to plan this Fall. Remember, you can read about my favorite cool season vegetables to grow HERE and also view my personal, zone 10b seed schedule in the Garden Resources library (available to subscribers). Leave any comments or questions below, I love hearing from other gardeners!
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