Sunday, 24 September 2017

Skirret plants Australia

I have had a few questions about skirret lately so thought I would write a post to answer them.  Skirret (Sium sisarum) is a rare perennial root vegetable that should be grown more widely by home gardeners.  I have written a few blog posts on skirret before, you can use the 'search' button at the top right side of the page to find them.

Skirret was once grown and eaten throughout Europe, then fell out of fashion when vegetables such as the potato were brought back from the new world.  Now, especially in Australia, almost no one has ever heard of skirret, let alone eaten it.  It is too bad because skirret tastes amazing.

Skirret can be planted as a seed in spring, it produces a crop, flowers and produces more seed all in one year.  Not many perennial vegetables can produce a crop this quick from seed grown.  Skirret plants also produce offsets, so when the plant dies down over winter the offsets can be divided, the seeds can be planted and you can increase the number of plants that you have.  Skirret seed shows a surprising amount of genetic diversity, that combined with how many seeds it sets, plus its perennial nature, makes breeding improved skirret varieties relatively simple.

Skirret likes water and thrives in cool climates, if in a hot climate it grows well enough if given more water.  It can survive with less water, but does not crop well.  You really can't over water skirret.
organic skirret roots Australia
Skirret roots, it was the end of the season when I had eaten all the large roots that I remembered to take a picture, many were a bit longer than this
Skirret is dormant over winter, no matter how cold it gets here the plants always survive.  We have had frosts below -8C this last winter and my plants were completely undamaged.  Skirret flowers attract beneficial insects to the garden, they seem to be visited often by wasps.  I have never had any pests damage my skirret other than snails and slugs when it is very small.

Young skirret plants
Skirret is very simple to grow, productive, and tastes great, but it is not suited to mechanical harvest and the roots don't store well once dug so will never be a main crop anywhere.  The amazing taste, ease of growth and high yield means that it is well suited to home growers.  Being perennial means it can be left to do its own thing and just dug up at harvest time.  We dig up roots when we need them for a meal, anything we leave behind we will either dig up later, or if we miss it this year it will continue to grow larger for next year.

Skirret is such an amazing vegetable that everyone who I have given some to has loved it.  Kids even love the taste of skirret.  I have never heard of anyone eat some and not love it.

Skirret leaves, stems and seeds can be eaten, and they are not without their charm, but it is the roots that are the main crop here.  The roots can be eaten raw, and they are ok, much like a sweet crunchy carrot, but skirret is far better roasted.  It is easily the best tasting roasted vegetable that I have eaten.  It doesn't need to be peeled, just scrub off the soil and roast away.  Skirret tastes incredibly sweet and rich once roasted.
Skirret plants - crowded but still good
Most people plant skirret about 30 cm apart, or about 9 per square meter, as this gives them plenty of room to grow.  I plant them far closer than that.  I am limited by the amount of space I have, I am not limited by the number of plants.  The yield per plant declines when planted too close like this, but the yield per area is increased. 

perennial skirret vegetable
Skirret starting to flower in late summer
Skirret roots can have a woody core.  This is mostly seen in young plants or plants that have not had enough water over the growing season.  I have culled pretty hard and most of my plants no longer have any woody core at all.  I am hoping to completely eliminate the woody genes from my population and only grow superior plants.  I don't know if I will ever achieve this as I don't know anything about the genes that cause woodiness.

Skirret also seems to be good when planted near leek.  The skirret is the same, but the leeks appear to grow faster and larger.  I should do some little tests to see if this was just a coincidence.

Where to buy skirret in Australia
Not many places in Australia have skirret for sale, hopefully that changes as skirret is a delicious vegetable that is well suited to growing at home.  Skirret needs some breeding work done to make the roots fatter.  I sell skirret offsets over winter, small plants over spring, and seeds all year.  They are listed on my for sale page if you are interested.

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