BLUE SPRINGS, Mo.–There are a lot of vegetables out there for home gardeners in the Midwest to try beyond the standard offerings at the garden center, says a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist.
Marlin Bates suggests gardeners look into some of the lesser-known members of the Apiaceae (ay-pee-AY-see-ee) family.
“We’re familiar with parsley, cilantro, carrot and fennel, but a few other members of that family should have a place in the vegetable garden, too,” Bates said.
Although celery is a familiar sight in supermarket produce sections, it has a reputation among gardeners as a difficult plant to grow, he said. “But it does well in our climate.”
Perhaps the best thing about growing celery is that you don’t have to harvest it all at once. “Because this plant has stems of various sizes throughout the season, gardeners can harvest the mature growth from around the outside, making this a crop that provides a perpetual harvest until the first frost, perhaps even beyond,” Bates said.
Alternatively, you can grow celery for harvest as a head, as you find at the grocery store. To encourage tight head formation, tie stalks together as vigorous growth begins after transplanting. “If harvested correctly, new stalks will develop from the stump that is left behind,” he said.
Start celery indoors several weeks before placing it out in the garden. “Transplants should be set out when night temperatures are consistently above 40 degrees,” he said.
Celery is a biennial, so when it’s exposed to temperatures below this threshold, it believes it has gone through winter and will bolt (produce seeds prematurely), ruining the plant for the season.
Another member of the Apiaceae family to consider is chervil. This large annual tastes much like parsley, but with a hint of anise, Bates said.
“Many gardeners who grow chervil simply use it as a substitute for parsley,” he said.
Directly sow seeds in early spring and late summer. Harvest only the youngest leafy growth for use, but don’t harvest after flower stalks have begun to develop.
“This plant produces its flower stalks in response to short nights, so two plantings are necessary to keep harvestable plants in the landscape,” he said.
Parsnips are considered a winter vegetable because they shouldn’t be harvested until they have been subjected to near-freezing temperatures in late fall/early winter.
“Parsnip seeds should be sown directly in the garden along with other cool-season vegetables in the spring,” Bates said.
Because parsnip seeds often take up to a month to emerge, many gardeners mark the rows with a radish seed every 8-12 inches. The radish also prevents the soil from crusting and keeping the parsnip from emerging. Seed heavily and thin after emergence to obtain proper spacing.
“The keys to keeping these plants happy in the garden are fertility and moisture,” Bates said. The root systems of these plants are not particularly far-reaching, so high organic matter and consistent moisture will help ensure a healthy, productive plant.
As an added bonus, celery and chervil both do well in partial shade. “In fact, many gardeners prefer shady locations for these two crops, as it lends a milder flavor to the leaves than a fully exposed site does,” Bates said.