Skirret: A tale of two skirrets

We started skirret (Sium sisarum) from both roots and seeds this year.  From the original two flats of seeds sowed in mid February, which yielded more than 100 seedlings, we are down to 21.  There are a number of reasons for that.  The first reason is that everything likes to eat skirret.  I’ve watched robins and crows yank them out of the ground and swallow them.  I’ve seen stumps covered with slug slime.  I’ve seen the tell-tale sawtooth leaves left by rabbits.  Many have just disappeared overnight.

But, somehow a few have pulled through.  The next problem was that we planted them in partial shade.  I kept waiting for them to start growing and they mostly just sat there.  Finally, we moved some of them into full sun and they started to perk up right away.  So, if you live in southern California or Texas, you might want to grow your skirrets in the shade, but if you live on the sun-starved coast of Washington or similar, I recommend full sun.

Update: As the season continued, I’ve had to reevaluate the recommendation to grow skirret in full sun. The biggest and best yielding plants grew as understory for most of the season and didn’t break out of the canopy until September.  So, shade doesn’t seem to be a problem for skirret and may be desirable.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve finally started to get some decent growth.  I’m not worried about yield.  Skirret is a perennial and I don’t mind waiting an extra year to harvest.  I just want the plants to live, since you can’t do much selection if all you have are two plants that are already an improved variety.

Our reference skirret plants, which we started from roots, are supposed to be a stringless variety, meaning that there is not a thin woody core in the roots.  Some skirrets have that feature, which means that you must separate the flesh from the string.  These plants are doing great.  They may get to be six feet tall, so we’ve planted them in front of our waterfowl enclosure, where they will provide some shade for the birds.

For comparison, we started the seedlings eleven weeks before we planted these roots.  So, first year skirret growth is not terribly fast.  Still, we have about four months left in the growing season, so we may see them start to catch up eventually.

Skirret seeds and offsets are sometimes available in our seed shop.

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