Friday, 3 January 2014

Skirret—Growing, Selecting (and Eating)

I grew skirret from two sources last year; seed from a commercial supplier, and a few root-cuttings presumably from plants which had already received some selection.
Seed-grown plants are highly variable, and give the chance to select for larger root production, so rather than lift the plants piecemeal as required for the kitchen, I'm checking the whole crop to choose and propagate from the best.
About two dozen plants...
…showing wide variation in quality and productivity...
... those with the thickest and largest roots are used for division. Skirret crowns conveniently provide ready-rooted shoots which can be split off...

…ready for potting up or planting out directly...
Apart from being easy to propagate, skirret has a lot else going for it. To my taste, this is one of the best flavoured and textured vegetables I've eaten; sweet and floury, with more character than say potato or parsnip.
It's perennial, easy to grow, showing no sign of pest damage, tolerates rough weather, and produces attractive flowers and ample seed. In my experience, it stores well simply left in the ground until needed.  With all this, it seems sad that it has almost disappeared from the vegetable garden just because it's a little fiddly to clean compared with potatoes or carrots.

There are varied ideas about the best way grow the crop, but I sowed indoors at the end of April, transplanted the strongest seedlings to modules, and planted outdoors promptly to avoid any risk of amusingly shaped roots. I used block planting, spaced at 12" on a bed of silty soil in full sun, and mulched with 4" of raw woodchippings. During mid Summer they got a sprinkling of wood ash, and a little dilute nitrogen feed. During dry spells, they got perhaps 2gal of water per sq.m/week.

I can also see potential for my now improved stock in a polyculture system, perhaps with alliums, as the two are active at different ends of the year, but I need to experiment more with basic cultural conditions first before I start getting too creative.

- And not forgetting the taste test...
…mmm, farinaceous!
Many reports mention skirret roots having a woody core, but I've seen no instances of this in my harvest, and suspect it may be due to cultural conditions, perhaps lack of water.

There is a recipe for an impressive Skirret Pie here, and more about growing the crop here at The Backyard Larder Blog, and here at Wetting the Beds.


4 comments:

  1. The matter of the "string" or woody core does seem to me to have more to do with environment than genetics. I have an "improved" variety that is supposed to have no core. Some didn't, but some did - and they are clones. In fact, I think I had a greater percentage of stringless plants from seed.

    Overall, I'm not too bothered by the core. If the skirret is cut into small pieces, I don't really notice it. When in long pieces, it is no trouble to just pull the string out of a cooked skirret. We go to a heck of a lot more trouble to eat other plants, as anyone who has ever had a pomegranate can attest.

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    1. It's wild relatives are found growing in marshes, so I think water supply looks likely as the controlling factor for woodiness.

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  2. Thanks for the interesting post,

    Did your vegetativly propagated improved cultivars did better than your best seeded plant ?

    Can you tell chere yoou find this superior cultivar ?

    Thanks

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    1. The plants from cuttings were no better than the best of the seed-grown plants, so I don't think they were anything special, probably just the best from someone else's sowing.

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