Tuesday, 16 January 2018

How to grow skirret from seed

Skirret plants will not cross pollinate with anything other than skirret, so saving seed is easy.  Skirret flowers in characteristic umbels that appear to be loved by all kinds of pollinators from beneficial wasps to flies to beetles to ants to native bees and even honey bees, so pollination is never problematic.  Seed grown skirret displays a surprising amount of diversity which is great for breeding improved plants with thicker roots.  I normally plant skirret seed in spring, this year I have sown some in summer and it also appears to be growing well.
Skirret: normal plants on left, offset grown plants on right
Planting skirret seed in spring will yield a small crop of edible sized roots, a few tiny offsets to plant out, as well as more seed before the end of autumn, even in shorter climates.  First year roots tend to be thin and delicious, if you can leave some they will be far thicker the following year.  Planting a tiny skirret offset gives a far larger plant with thicker roots than seed grown plants.  This winter I should take a comparison photo of seed grown skirret, offset grown skirret and older skirret plants. 
One year old skirret plants - each skirret plant produces several offsets
Skirret seeds are very tiny and germination is normally very simple.  I am told that skirret seed remains viable for anywhere from 3 to 10+ years.  While I normally get great germination I am told that germination rates can fall below 75% even with fresh seed.  To cover against this I only sell the freshest seed I have and I put extra seed in the packets so you will easily be able to grow 20 or more plants.  I have read that temperatures of 10 C to 22 C are best for germination but have never paid much attention to this.  
I plant skirret seed either in pots of soil or in an empty garden bed with no weeds.  I normally scatter the seed over the soil surface and water well.  I don’t cover the seed as it is so tiny and the seedling may not be able to grow to the surface.  I am also not sure if skirret needs light to improve germination.  From here I never let it dry out and in a week or two I normally see seedlings start to pop up.  If it rains the seedlings seem to germinate and grow faster, but that may be my imagination.  

Skirret offsets, they aren't big
The main pests I have seen with skirret are slugs and snails, the tiny seedlings may need a little protection until they get larger which is why I often grow skirret seedlings in a pot.  Much like any seedling things like earwigs and slaters may kill them when very small.  I am yet to see any pest bother a large skirret plant.  I assume rabbits, ducks, sheep etc would eat skirret plants to death due to the high sugar content.    

Once the skirret seedlings have a few true leaves and are large enough to handle you can transplant them where they are to grow.  Even if seeds were sown in the garden they will still likely need transplanting as watering tends to move seeds and clump them together rather than leave them to grow nicely spaced.  You don’t have to transplant them if you don’t want to as they will survive and still produce a crop.  

One dormant skirret offset, it doesn't have roots yet
Unlike many other root crops skirret does not appear to dislike being transplanted.  Skirret likes to be protected from the sun for a few days after transplanting, otherwise the leaves sometimes wilt.  I cram skirret in to any space I have and get good crops but the more space you can give them the better, most people plant about 30 cm apart or 9 per square meter.  

Skirret thrives in cool climates and loves water but it is a survivor that is remarkably adaptable.  I grew it in a hot arid climate where it could not survive in the garden by keeping it in a pot of soil in a bucket that I would fill with water each morning and afternoon.  Each year the skirret plants get larger, both taller and wider.  Each year the skirret plants produce more offsets, more seed, and fatter roots.    
organic skirret roots Australia
Skirret roots from two year old plants

When the skirret dies down it is time to harvest roots.  I have only grown skirret in frosty areas so don’t know if it dies down in areas of warm winters.  Skirret roots do not store well once dug so I dig them up as needed.  Any small ones that I leave behind or any that I miss will just be larger and fatter next year.
Few places sell skirret seed in Australia and even fewer sell skirret plants.  I sell skirret seed all year and skirret offsets over winter through my for sale page.


  1. I have some skirret I was given as a plant. I keep meaning to dig it up and try the roots - it's been in the ground for two years! It is very impressive when it flowers... until you brush past after it has been raining and realise those stems really hold a lot of water :)

    1. Hi Emma,

      I agree, skirret is pretty impressive when it flowers. Practically every pollinator here seems to love it. It is best to wait until winter to dig up the roots, if you have frosts they will become sweeter.

      Considering how easy it is to grow skirret from seed, and how much diversity the seeds have, it would really benefit from some breeding effort aimed at making the roots fatter.

  2. Ive got some seeds of it to try this year. I read somewhere that the leaves are also edible

  3. Hi Scott,

    yes, it is true that skirret leaves are edible. Some skirret leaves taste a bit like celery, others are a bit sweet, others don't have much taste at all. It varies from plant to plant. I tend not to eat the leaves.

    Skirret seeds are also edible, but they are so small that I haven't bothered to try them.

    Skirret roots are the main crop, they are delicious when roasted. Similar to sweet potato but very sweet.