Celery Farming In Kenya: Celery (Apium graveolens var dulce) has its origins in the eastern Mediterranean , and has been cultivated for over 2000 years. In Kenya, celery culture is believed to have a very promising future, especially for specialist growers situated in areas which have moderate temperatures over most months of the year. There is likely to be an increasing demand for good-quality celery because of the changing eating habits of the consumer towards healthful food. Celery is normally consumed fresh.

celery farming in kenya
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The celery plant has a thick, fleshy taproot which may be broken off in transplanting. The plant develops a fibrous root system which is situated in the top 200 mm of soil. Leaves are pinnately compound with a characteristic smell when crushed. The petiole of the leaf is the main plant part consumed, and is long, thick, curved in cross-section, and longitudinally grooved on the outer surface. Leaf blades are used for soups, stews and salads.

The small white flowers are borne on a compound terminal umbel, developing in the second year of growth or after winter cold spells.

Varieties of Celery in Kenya

There are three major types of celery. These varieties are differentiated based on the part intended to be utilized for use. In the broad category, there are two varieties; Leaf celery and stalk celery. The third variety is utilized for its roots. These varieties include;

  • Celeriac otherwise โ€˜root celeryโ€™ is utilized for its roots. It is characterized by the development of enlarged root tissues. You can use this as an ingredient in cooked stews, salads, or a soup additive.
  • Leaf celery is also referred to as โ€˜self-blanchingโ€™ or yellow celery. Its plants have leafy, slender, hollow petioles. It has a thinner stalk than Pascal (details below) and you can grow this variety for its aromatic leaves and seeds. You can use its leaves for medicinal purposes or as a condiment garnish.
  • The third and most common type is the stalk celery or Pascal. It takes 105-130 days to mature. It is consumed for its stalk and is eaten raw or in salads.

In Kenya, the most common varieties are Pascal and tall Utah which are both utilized for its stalks.

The seeds can be found at our online agrovet in Kenya.

Land preparation for celery farming in Kenya

Different types of fields and management preferences require different types of land preparation. Most growers in our interview pool performed several operations including multiple discing (five times in this study), ripping the soil (maybe twice) to break up any underlying compacted soil, plowing, leveling using a triplane, chiseling, furrowing, listing, and shaping beds. Preplant fertilizer was applied together with listing operation once before the ground was shaped and rolled into beds and a second time afterward. The ground is preirrigated at the end of the preplant period.

Climatic requirements on celery farming in Kenya

Optimal conditions conducive to quick plant development and top yields of good-quality celery are moderately cool air temperatures (between 13ยฐC and 24ยฐC), adequate soil moisture without dry periods, and relatively high humidity conditions. Plants will withstand very light frosts, but are susceptible to colder conditions.

Extended periods with temperatures remaining below 13ยฐC will cause seed-stalks to be initiated (plant bolting). On the other hand, when maximum daily temperatures consistently rise above 24ยฐC, the edible stalks become more fibrous, and tend to develop a bitter flavour.

Well drained peat with a high water table is optimum for celery production. Satisfactory crops can be produced on fertile, medium textured mineral soils with high organic matter under irrigation. Most of the celery root system is with the top 15 cm of soil but some roots penetrate as deep as 2 feet. Clay soils are generally unsuitable.

Soils

Sandy to heavier loam soils, which are slightly acid and rich in humus, are the most suitable for celery production. Although the plants are fairly shallow-rooted, the ideal soils are relatively deep, fertile, and well-drained soils in which moisture levels remain adequate.

Crop Establishment

The majority of celery plantings are established using seedlings, but if misting irrigation is available then direct seeding might be desirable. With direct seeding, weed control requires more attention. Between 0,5 and 1 kg fresh seed is required per ha of celery plants. Seed germination might often be a problem. Seed could be soaked in water for a day before it is sown, in order to hasten germination.

Seedbeds may be used, or trays of styrofoam seedling cells. Seedbeds should be level and standing water avoided. Young seedlings from beds could be pricked out, and placed in seedling cells for further development, before final transplanting into the prepared beds. Specialist seedling nurseries supply a significant proportion of the plants used. Seedlings should develop for about two months before field planting.

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Seed Treatment – Three year old seed should be used to ensure the absence of viable leaf blight disease on seeds. Otherwise it must be hot-water-treated. “Primed” seed may be available and coated seed may be available.

Seeding/Planting – Growing transplants – sow seed 10 to 12 weeks before field planting (usually in mid June). Approximately 150 to 200 grams of seed provide enough plants for 1 hectare (75,000 to 135,000 plants) when the standard field spacing is used (seedlings are pricked out at 4 to 5 weeks). Until the plants emerge a temperature of 21 to 24C is suitable. Then 18 to 24C is ample for steady growth. Night temperatures should not dip below 13C to lessen the production of “bolters”.

Plants for the early crop should not be set in the field until the danger of a prolonged cool period
or actual freezing is over.

If the plants have become too tall and spindly before field setting they can be clipped back to a height of 12 to 15 cm. Clipped plants facilitate transplanting but well grown, untrimmed plants are preferable because they receive less check in growth.

Outdoor seedbeds may not be a feasible way to produce transplants in this area due to the short season.

Field Transplanting – The usual field spacing is 15 to 20 cm between plants in rows 60 to 100 cm apart or in paired rows 20 cm apart with 60 to 100 cms between pairs.

Propagation and planting celery in Kenya

When preparing a nursery seedbed, mix the soil with compost manure rich in nitrogen.

โ€œThen raise beds of 8 by 1.25 metres with a good width that is easy to work with. Target to work with 450 grammes of seeds per hectare. You should then sow the seeds and lightly cover them,โ€ says Kamau.

The seeds will start germinating after four to eight weeks. One can soak the seeds in water a day before sowing to hasten germination. Celery seeds can also be directly sown into the field as long as there is a good irrigation system to ensure that it does not go without water.

If you choose to use the seedbed method, your seedlings will be ready for transplanting about two months after sowing. โ€œPlant your seedling with a spacing of 60cm by 15cm or 45cm by 15cm. Do not plant the seedlings too deep. Keep the roots of the plant to a depth of not more than 2cm.

Blanching Celery

Blanching is the process where sunlight is blocked off from the developing petioles, thereby inhibiting chlorophyll formation in the stalk. The pale celery stalks tend to be more tender and have a better taste than the green petioles which have a bitter taste. This blanching is not to be confused with the cooking one.

It is done once the plant gets to about 25cm. The crops are covered using boards, mulch, or soil moulds and left to mature without the greening of the stalk.

This process is only done to the stalk to improve its taste especially if you intend to eat it raw.

Crop Management On Celery Farming In Kenya

For succulent and tender stalks, high soil moisture is necessary. Water must be regularly supplied at frequent intervals and more moisture is needed in the last month before harvest as the most rapid growth occurs at this time. About 75 cm of water are required to grow the crop to maturity.

Cultivation or hand hoeing may be necessary depending on the weed problems. Plastic mulches may be used to control weeds in some systems of production.

Nutrition On Celery Farming In Kenya

ALL ADDITIONS OF LIME AND FERTILIZER OR MANURES SHOULD BE BASED ON RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A SOIL TEST.

Celery is a heavy feeder and a poor forager so on all but the richest soils large quantities of nutrients should be applied.

Manure – Where manure is available its use is recommended. Up to 100 tonnes per hectare may be applied but watch that nitrogen levels are kept under control.

Lime – Lime should be applied to maintain the soil pH in the range 6.0 – 6.8 (preferably above 6.5). Lower pH levels are tolerated on peat soils.

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Nitrogen – Celery has a high nitrogen requirement. Generally, apply two-thirds of the nitrogen at planting time and the remainder sidedressed in 2 to 3 applications as required. Consider the nitrogen in legume sod and manure applications since blackheart can be aggravated by high available nitrogen levels.

Phosphorus – This fertilizer is usually broadcast preplant in moderate applications.

Potash – Sandy loam soils may be low in potash. On these soils incorporate the potash preplant. Reduce the rate of potash if it is side banded.

Magnesium – Ratios of potassium to magnesium should be reduced by using dolomitic

limestone – Deficiencies may also be corrected by spraying with magnesium sulphate at 10 day intervals (10 to 15 kg per hectare).

Calcium – “Black heart” a sign of calcium deficiency, may be avoided with use of calcium nitrate and/or calcium chloride applications. Spray directly into the heart of the plant 2.2 to 4 kg calcium (from calcium chloride) or 1.2 to 3.4 kg calcium (from calcium nitrate) per 1000 L of water. If celery is under moisture stress, humidities are high, or the crop is growing rapidly, repeat once per week.

Sulfur – Is suggested on sandy soils low in organic matter.

Micronutrients – Boron – “Stem cracking” is a sign of boron deficiency. It can be prevented by applying 0.2% boron in the fertilizer and/or later in the growing season as a foliar spray (4 kg per hectare of Solubor in sufficient water for coverage along with a “spreader” when plants are about 15 cm tall).

Salt (NaCl) – This is used in some growing areas to increase yields. This should be ploughed into the soil at least a month before transplanting.

Manganese – On soils with a pH of over 6.5 this nutrient may not be available to the plant. Spray with manganese sulphate at 9 kg per hectare.

Application Method – broadcast before planting and incorporate part of the nitrogen, potash and salt. Band, if possible, phosphorus, small amounts of nitrogen and small amounts of potash.

Pests Affecting Celery Farming In Kenya and Pest Control

Weeds
Perennial weeds should be controlled prior to planting. Herbicidal oil can be used to control annual broadleaf weeds in the seedbed. Herbicides can be applied 8 to 10 days after transplanting to control germinating annual weeds.

Diseases affecting celery farming in Kenya and control

Damping-Off (fungi)

Characteristics: Damping-off causes an early collapse of young seedlings.
Control: Grow seedlings in sterilized soil. Treat seed with fungicide before seeding, or drench immediately after seeding. Do not overwater or crowd seedlings.

Leaf Blight (fungi)

Characteristics: Leaf blights are commonly caused by either one of two fungi, Cercospora or Septoria. These diseases are spread by wind, rain splash and movement of workers or implements in the field. Cercospora can be recognized first by yellow spots on both sides of the leaves which enlarge rapidly and become ash gray. Septoria shows as a yellowish speckling, later turning yellowish gray.

Very small black specks (fungus fruiting bodies) are associated with, and usually within, the spots. Each disease can affect petioles as well as leaves.

Control: The fungi are seed and soil borne. Every effort should be made to produce disease-free seedlings (grown in sterilized soil using 3 year old seed or hot water treated seed). Begin spraying when seedlings are 5 cm high and continue weekly throughout the season.

Pink Rot (fungi)

Characteristics: Plants wilt and collapse in the field due to watery, pinkish rot of crown and petioles. The disease is caused by Sclerotinia . Under wet conditions, decayed areas may be covered with a white mold which develop hard, black pea-sized fungal structures.

Control: Following other crops in rotation such as clover, soybeans, carrots, beans, lettuce and
cole crops increases risk of disease. Always plow under field debris immediately after harvest.

Yellow (fungi)

Characteristics: Fusarium yellows has not been reported in the Atlantic region but is a serious disease in other growing areas. The fungus infests the plants through the root system. A brown discoloration occurs in the vascular system. The outer leaves become yellow and spreads to other leaves as the fungus progresses through the vascular system. Eventually the foliage turns brown and dies.

Control: Grow resistant or tolerant varieties. Practice a 2 to 3 year rotation. Do not include carrots, cabbage or sweet corn in the rotation. Weeds also maintain or increase disease levels in the soil. Avoid transplants from infested areas.

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Aster Yellows (mycoplasma)

Characteristics: Plants are light yellow with elongated, twisted leaves. Later the plants become yellow and dwarfed and the petioles become brittle and frequently crack. Spread by leaf hoppers.

Control: Control weeds that harbour the organism and control leaf hoppers.

Tarnished Plant Bug

Characteristics: A serious insect pest, often causing complete crop loss. Adults are small (6 mm) insects that vary from straw-green to dark brown with yellowish, reddish-brown and black mottling. Adults are very active, quickly flying away when disturbed.

Nymphs (yellowish-green, 1 mm long) emerge after 10 days, undergoing two molts to become adults within 3 to 4 weeks. Adults and nymphs are equally damaging, their feeding distorts stalks, often causing breakdown resembling black heart.

Control: Controls for aster (six spotted) leafhopper will also be effective against this insect. Clean cultivation of weeds adjacent to the crop area will also help to reduce pest numbers.

Aster (Six-spotted) Leafhopper

Characteristics: Leafhoppers are small (4 mm long), slender, wedge-shaped insects; they are greenish-yellow in color. They can occur in large numbers throughout the season. Leafhoppers transmit aster yellows disease.

Control: Apply 3 to 4 sprays at 10 day intervals beginning early July. Also spray weeds in headlands and control leafhoppers on adjacent carrots and lettuce (other vegetable and field crops are hosts).

Aphids

Characteristics: Aphids are small, soft-bodied, slow-moving insects. They are often found in large colonies on the undersurface of leaves. A colony consists of winged and wingless adults and various sizes of nymphs. Aphids may be black, yellow or pink, but mostly are various shades of green. Aphids feed by sucking plant sap. Saliva injected while feeding may carry plant viruses or may be toxic to the host plant.

Feeding of large numbers of aphids discolors the plant foliage and curls the leaves. The plants may be covered with a sticky substance, honey dew, which is excreted by the aphids.

Control: Apply recommended pesticides when aphids are numerous.

Harvesting and Handling

Celery may be harvested as soon as it reaches marketable size. Early celery can be harvested before it is full grown if high market price for early cropping justifies it. Cut the stalks below ground level with a sharp blade. Trim off outer leaves and pack in crates.

On a large production scale this crop is machine harvested. It is then washed, trimmed and packed in a receiving shed. Sometimes leaves trimmed are used for processing into soups or dried herb mixes.

Celery Yield Per Acre

The yield of many celery crops are dependent on various factors including;

  • Soil type or fertility.
  • Climatic conditions you grow your crop in.
  • Variety of celery you choose to farm.
  • Planting area whether indoors or in the field.
  • Your management practices such as weeding and irrigation.

Under ideal conditions, you can harvest between 25-30tonnes per hectare.

Yields for the seeds also vary. An ideal farm can yield up to 500kgs of seeds for every hectare of celery.

Storage and Conditioning

Celery can be stored 1 to 2 months at a temperature of 0 to 1C and 98 to 100% relative humidity. The freezing point is -0.2C. Celery is highly perishable, and when warm and wet it decays rapidly. Precooling is essential and is usually accomplished by hydrocooling forced-air or vacuum.

Store celery in a room free from strong odours since the plant absorbs foreign flavours. Laborers should wear rubber gloves as severe skin rashes can occur in some individuals. Packaging in well ventilated plastic is frequently used to protect it from wilting.

Celery market in Kenya

The celery market currently growing given people are more informed and are mindful of their diet. You can also farm your celery for its seeds for the extraction of essential oils for use mainly in the medical field. Fresh celery is currently retailing at Ksh.150 (1.5 USD) per kg in wholesale markets and about Ksh.200 (2 USD) per kg in the retail Kenyan market. Some of the major buyers of celery in Kenya include;

  • Diet and lifestyle bars.
  • Juicing Bars.
  • Green groceries in towns and estates.
  • Vegetarian restaurants.
  • Export market.

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