Here’s an easy and FAST “planting” project for Tu B’Shevat for those of us who need quicker gratification—and more Karpas—than parsley seeds can offer.
The tallest my Tu B’Shevat parsley got by Passover was maybe 4″.
Which is fine, and I’d do it again, but now, I will always do CELERY BUTTS.
Buy a celery head / bunch. Slice base end with about 2 inches to spare. This is the butt.
(If a kid is doing the work, a big bread knife works well and is satisfying to operate.)
Use the now-detached stalks for snacks or matzah ball soup or whatever, but it’s the butt we want.
Put that butt in a dish of shallow water.
Within a day or two, green shoots will start spearing from the middle, and roots will start trickling from the bottom.
Compared to parsley seeds, this is INSTANT GRATIFICATION.
After a week or so (or right away, it you prefer), your kid can plant the base in a pot of moist soil.
Don’t bury it: just place it deep enough for roots to nestle comfortably.
What you’ll end up with is not a new head of celery, but a bouquet of lovely celery leaves: a bouquet of Karpas.
Cut a leaf or two to use like parsley at the seders.
“I grew the Karpas!” your kid can brag.
Meanwhile, the roots will make more leaves all year long. Use leaves on salads, to favor soups, beans, grains.
When weather permits, you can move the butt outside or plant it in the garden.
The more butts, the more bouquets.
your butt isn’t done yet.
I put my celery butt outside where it grew even faster, and where it has (so far) stayed green through a Nashville winter.
You need to know that celery is in the carrot family, and that any plant in the carrot family—such as parsley, dill, fennel (and carrot)—is a larval host for the beautiful Black Swallowtail Butterfly.
These caterpillars *only* eat leaves from the carrot family.
Rather like Monarch caterpillars *only* eat milkweed.
Your celery butt feeds butterfly babies.
Here’s how I figured this out. . .
Last August, while I sat sweating in my driveway, a Black Swallowtail butterfly fluttered by. She landed on my celery butt. She paused, and what I realized later was that she was “tasting” the leaf using special receptors on her legs. The taste told her Yes, this is Black Swallowtail baby food.
And then ploop, she laid an egg. I watched her abdomen curve underneath her body and extrude one pale, yellow dot hardly bigger than a poppy seed.
And then ploop, on the next leaf, another egg.
One egg, I left alone to take its chances. But I whisked the other to my screened porch, safe from butterfly predators. I snapped the whole leaf free and set it in a small jar of water.
Five days later, the egg hatched. And I watched the very hungry caterpillar eat. And eat. And grow. And eat.
Here’s my Instagram post about the hatching:
I kept bringing celery leaves to the vase, so the caterpillar never ran out of food.
I watched it grow from a dark speck through 5 instar stages and 5 stripey costume changes.
And then, I watched it become a chrysalis.
(If you haven’t watched a caterpillar become a chrysalis, or a chrysalis become a butterfly, please read my Note below. You MUST SEE THESE THINGS. Your kid MUST SEE THESE THINGS.)
Black Swallowtail chrysalises have a natural antifreeze that lets them overwinter even in Nashville, so I’m still waiting to see this one become a butterfly.
BUT my point is this:
Plant a host plant and the butterflies will find it!
And a celery butt might be the easiest, cheapest, fastest host plant ever.
HOW TO FIND CATERPILLARS and chrysalises and emerging adults:
Plant a native host plant. Find out which butterflies are in your area, pick a common one, and then grow the larval host plant that butterfly needs.
Remember, butterflies need Nectar Plants for adult food, and they need Larval Host Plants for caterpillar food.
For years, I’ve grown native purple passionvine (the Tennessee State Wildflower: Passiflora incarnata) so I get oodles of Gulf Fritillaries from May till frost, but I also grow four kinds of native milkweed to support Monarchs.
If you need help, there is likely a nearby butterfly association that can point you to the easiest starter plant.
Link to info page about Black Swallowtail Butterflies, including range info and pics of the larval instars.
More Bible Belt Balabusta posts about planting Karpas, etc. for Tu B’Shevat:
Eat a Fruit, Plant its Seeds for Tu B’Shevat : turn a fruit snack into a planting activity.
And for all my Tu B’Shevat hands-on activities, see this link.
photo credit for the adult Black Swallowtail butterfly by Derek Ramsay at wikimedia commons: link.