That was the question from the puzzled looking greengrocer in the market the other morning. I was buying a celeriac and as he apologetically told me that it still had leaves on, I replied that it didn’t matter, but was in fact a good thing, as I would be planting it in the garden rather than eating it. That seemed to flummox him even more.
I went on to explain that I like to replant root vegetables and allow them to flower in their second year. Most of our traditional roots such as carrots, parsnips, beetroot etc are biennial – that is they flower in their second year; whereas tubers such as potatoes flower in the first year. For years I have taken the top inch or so from scorzonera plants, eaten the bottom part and replanted the top with a few leaves. The leaves regrow, the plant flowers giving me seed and on Scorzonera at least, the root regrows as well. Similarly I replant the tops of carrots to get flowers, which I may use for seeds or just let the insects feast on the flower heads are so amazingly attractive to them. I do the same with parsnips and last autumn replanted root parsley and root chicory tops as well.
I can count at least twenty flying things – mostly flies I think – on this flower head, which was only one of many.
I wanted to try planting a whole celeriac root from the market; and had been planning to buy three, but as they were £1.80 each I decided on just the one which I replanted whole. If I had bought more I would have eaten part of them (most of one and a smaller part of the other) and then replanted the remainder to compare to the whole one.
I have put the celeriac in a bed close to the path so I will be able to watch it closely. It was a super day (at least until the rain set in later on), sunny and bright, such a change from the dull, wet and windy weather we have had pretty much unendingly since October. Unusually for this winter there had been a bit of a frost and a light smattering of snow overnight, the ground although cold was soft enough to dig out a space.
I am confident that it will both grow and flower and then give me a fine crop of seeds which is my main objective. Years ago I tried to grow celeriac in my previous garden. It did not like the damp, shady conditions at all. Very few germinated and those that did were soon eaten by slugs. My present garden is much more open and (fortunately) much less slug ridden. As vegetables in this family are well known for being fussy germinators I will have far more seed available from a plant that has flowered than from a seed packet. That means I can expect to get a reasonable number of plants even if the germination is not very good.
These days I tend to let plants I want to propagate from seed scatter their own seeds where they will, although sometimes I also collect them and put them where I want them. Allowing plants that are happily established in the garden to do this seems to result in a decent number of seedlings.
Of course I don’t know if this particular celeriac plant is an F1 hybrid rather than an open pollinated one. If it is an F1, then the seedlings I get may not be any use, if it is open pollinated then they will be like their parent. But that is a chance I am taking. Once I have the seeds I may well dig up the celeriac plant, eat the bottom and replant the top, but equally I may leave it until some seedlings are established. I may even leave it for as many years as it will last for, depending on how it fares with flowers and seed production and whatever weather comes. Many plants can last much longer than we might expect – categorising plants as annual / biennial / perennial implies that these categories are mutually exclusive. However although an annual is definitely only annual and not biennial or perennial, biennials may well live more than two years – which is the definition of a perennial. Some of my replanted carrots have gone on into at least their third year after which it became impossible to distinguish an older plant from more recent ones. Certainly Scorzonera has gone on for years and years. So I am hoping for good things from the celeriac (with my fingers crossed as you can never be certain) and I will return to this topic later on this year.