Sunday, 21 June 2015

Skirret harvest 2015

The other weekend I dug up my dormant skirret plants to harvest some delicious roots as well as divide the crowns.  Being Winter in Australia means that the skirret has died down and the roots are conveniently stored in the soil.  I have had a lot of people email me questions about skirret  (my email details are on my for sale page)so thought I should write another post about the harvest.
Dormant skirret plant
I wrote an earlier post on growing skirret from seed.  Skirret is a terrific perennial vegetable that desperately deserves someone to put in some dedicated breeding effort and bring it back into popularity.

Over the year the plants grew from tiny seeds into flowering size small plants, each year they will grow larger and stronger.  Unlike many perennial vegetables, skirret grew from seed, flowered and set more viable seed in a year, as well as that each plant produced a few offsets which can be divided and replanted.
Skirret plants ready for harvest
The Skirret Harvest
To harvest I waited until they had finished flowering, then collected the seeds and store them safely, then I cut off the flower stalk and waited for the plants to die down.  The skirret eventually died down leaving nothing but some dead leaves to show where they had been, I then was busy and didn't do anything for a few weeks.  We eventually had some frosts, but I was still busy so did nothing with the skirret plants.  I am told like many winter vegetables that frost makes skirret sweeter and richer in taste, I have never eaten non-frosted skirret so can not comment on this.  Then when I had time I dug up the plants, removed the larger roots, divided the offsets, and replanted everything.

Upon digging the skirret plants I got to see how they had grown, they looked a lot like asparagus crowns.  Each plant grew a small handful of edible roots, the roots were only about 15cm long as this year were as thin as a pencil.  Being first year plants that is not too bad, older plants should grow longer and slightly thicker roots.  The plants were over crowded into a pot which was too small for one plant to grow well, which also would have lowered the yield.  I allowed the plants to flower and set seed, all of this takes a lot of energy and reduces the crop significantly.
Skirret plants in a pot starting to flower
Skirret Flowers attract beneficial insects
What Does Skirret Taste Like
We did not get a large crop this year so I dug the roots, scrubbed the dirt off them, sliced them and ate them raw.  My kids loved skirret even more than I do, they could not get enough.

I forgot how much I like skirret, it tastes very sweet.  It is the sweetest thing that I grow, which is saying a lot considering I grow so many different fruit trees, herbs (including stevia the so called 'sweet herb") and vegetables (including yacon).  The skin tastes a lot like carrot, if scrubbed off you lose a lot of the carrot taste and are left with the sweetness.  It has another taste to it which I really like, I don't know how to describe it.  It is very mild and subtle, but it adds something nice to the sweetness.

Skirret crowns
How to store skirret
Skirret, like many winter root crops, stores best in the soil to be dug when it is needed.  It can also be stored well in the fridge in a plastic bag.  I have no idea if it can be frozen but I assume it can, if frozen I guess it would be no good for eating raw but should be good for cooking.  I have never tried freezing it myself, so you may need to use caution here.

I left some on the kitchen bench for a few days, it does not store well like this at all.  They lost their crispness very fast and became pretty inedible and droopy.  I did not want to lose any skirret as it is so delicious so I put those limp roots in a cup of water to see if they would rehydrate and become edible once again.  It appears that they do, they are not as good as the ones that were stored properly, but they are still nice to eat again.
Seed grown skirret, some are better than others
How To Grow Skirret
Skirret can be started from seeds, first year plants are smaller and often have a woody core.  Skirret grown from seed often exhibits a lot of genetic variability, this can be a great thing resulting in improved plants, or it can result in substandard plants.  They should all taste similar, but the yield will be different.  Seeds are tiny and do not have excellent germination, my fresh seeds are only showing about 70% germination and the tiny seedlings are inviting to slugs and snails.  Seeds are reasonably cheap and I am told that skirret seeds remain viable for about 10 years.  When buying a packet of 20 seeds it is not difficult to end up with well over a dozen plants which is more than most people will have room for.
Tiny skirret seedlings ready to be transplanted
The seeds are tiny, in spring I sprinkle the seeds on top of soil in a punnet and water them.  I wait until the seedlings have grown a bit before I plant them in their final spot as I find I can protect a punnet a bit easier.

Skirret offset ready to be planted
Most people who have the option grow skirret from offsets.  These offsets are essentially tiny cuttings that the plant makes itself, each one is genetically identical to the parent.  These tiny offsets sit dormant over winter, then when the time is right they start to grow and get a head start on seed grown plants.  They will grow a larger crop with less woody cores than first year seed grown plants.  Offsets are more expensive, and you get one plant per offset the first year.  Each year after that your skirret will divide and flower.

I plant the offsets so that the growing tip is just beneath the soil surface, if you get heavy frost you way want to plant them a bit deeper or mulch the tiny offset over winter.  If you live somewhere without frost you can plant the offset so that the tip of the leaves are just poking out of the soil.  You will need to protect them from slugs and snails while they are little.  The offsets are pretty small, they usually will have no roots at this stage, this is normal and they will grow well from this when the weather is right.
Skirret offsets, they are small but they all will grow
Where to buy skirret in Australia
I sell packets of skirret seeds, they are a great way to grow a decent number of skirret plants.  I also sell offsets or small plants from my better plants on my for sale page, they are a great way to grow known performing plants that should grow larger than from seed reasonably fast.  I only sell offsets from the better plants.

I will sell offsets over winter, but they will be dormant and not do much until spring, if I have any left I plan to sell small plants over the warmer months.  Above is a picture of some skirret offsets next to a measuring tape for scale so that you can tell exactly what you will get if you buy them.

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