Saturday, 24 February 2018

Igloo tomato

I wrote a post about finding seeds from the first tomatoes that I ever bred.  I have grown them twice since then, the first time I was amazed at how fit for purpose and great they were.  The second time I grew them I decided to record some stats. 

The first tomato variety I bred I have named ‘Igloo’ after my first son.  It is a sturdy and productive plant that only grew to be under two feet tall.  The Igloo tomato fruit is red and round, this is because at the time I was developing it I only had access to red round tomatoes as breeding stock.  I wanted relatively small fruit as large fruit takes longer to ripen and faces more danger of something damaging the fruit before it is picked.  Most of the fruits were about 45 grams in weight, they are relatively uniform but some were smaller and some were larger as I didn’t breed for uniformity.
Igloo tomato - the first tomato variety I bred
When I was developing this variety I lived in a climate with a very short summer, so I wanted fast ripening small tomatoes.  This is one of the earliest ripening tomatoes I have grown and was the first to ripen of my productive tomatoes (ie Micro Tom ripened first but doesn’t count).  This year it took 147 days from planting the seed to picking the first ripe fruit.  When you look at my vegetable days to harvest page you will notice that this is very early.  I also wanted something that would set fruit in the cold, which this variety does well.

I didn’t have a great deal of access to water and had to carry manure to fertilise the soil, so I wanted short plants that did not waste resources on growing tall and did not need huge amounts of water.  These Igloo tomatoes only grow to about two feet tall, usually a bit less depending on growing conditions.  They don’t appear to be too water hungry but I haven’t tried growing them without watering.  All tomatoes need water, don’t let anyone make you think that they don’t.
Igloo tomato - absolutely covered in flowers
The taste of Igloo tomato is very good, probably a bit more sweet than it is sour, but a good mix of both.  If eaten too early they taste ok, if left to ripen properly the taste is far superior.  As with any tomato they are best not refrigerated as it impacts on the taste.  Also like any other variety of tomato they taste best when ripened on the plant and grown in much sun and warmth.
Igloo tomato, loaded with unripe fruit

Igloo tomato is what would be considered to be a determinate variety, or possibly semi-determinate, it sets flowers/fruit at the end of the growing point.  Unlike most determinate tomato varieties, once it has set fruit it tends to put out a few more shoots lower down and starts again.  This means it crops over an extended period.  Each flower truss tends to have 16 flowers, some have more but 16 seems very common.  Even though you would probably consider them to be determinate they do ripen over a very long period of time.

I was amazed at how absolutely covered in fruit this small plant was, it was very productive for such a small plant.  Rather than estimate the number I decided to count every fruit and record it after I picked it. 

Over the summer of 2017/2018 my Igloo tomato has already produced a flush of 242 tomatoes and has started to put out a few more branches and has started to flower again.  We lost some tomatoes to insects and birds (and the kids probably picked some that I didn’t know about) so I have not included them in the count. 

I didn’t weigh each fruit, but if the average weight is 45 grams this represents a harvest of 10.89 kg of tomatoes from one Igloo tomato plant so far.  This is excellent when you consider that the plant took up a small amount of space and was well under 2 feet tall.
 
I sell seeds of Igloo tomato, as well as some other vegetables seeds and perennial vegetable plants on my for sale page.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Wasabi herb (Diplotaxis erucoides)

It is not very often that I find a vegetable that I am not familiar with.  Different varieties or new varieties yes, but I generally have grown and eaten similar things many times before.  This time I happened across something no new to me that the binomial name didn’t even sound familiar to me.  

It was a small an uninteresting looking plant in a nursery labelled as "wasabi salad herb" (Diplotaxis erucoides), the label claimed the plant tastes like wasabi.  I had never heard of Diplotaxis before, so I was immediately intrigued.

I really like wasabi, but it sounds difficult to grow and is very expensive to buy.  I have plans to attempt to grow it in the future, I have even marked out a spot where I think it should grow, but I am not ready to get one yet.  Most ‘wasabi’ paste in shops in Australia contains no actual wasabi but instead is a mix of horseradish, mustard and green food colouring.  I grow a purple mustard that is described as being as hot as wasabi, it certainly has the heat but to me it tastes like mustard.  That is not really what I am after.  I particularly like the complex taste of wasabi, I enjoy wasabi’s heat but would almost prefer that it was slightly less hot.  

While I was at the nursery standing in front of this so called wasabi herb plant I surreptitiously picked a small part of leaf, popped it in my mouth, and chewed it.  At first it didn’t really taste like anything, then the wasabi taste came through, then the heat.  It was nowhere near as hot as real wasabi, and the burn didn’t last long, but the taste was certainly there, as was some of the nose tingling goodness.  I couldn’t help myself, I bought a plant and took it home.  I didn’t really know what it was, I didn’t know how to grow it or if it would survive, but I figured I could work that out later.

When I got home I looked on the internet, Diplotaxis erucoides is also called wasabi arugula or wild rocket.  It is not terribly uncommon, and several online places in Australia currently sell its seeds, but for some reason I had never heard of it.  I have asked around some of the growers I know, none of them have grown it either.  Diplotaxis erucoides is reasonably common, but no one has ever heard of it, what fun. 
Wasabi herb flowers and developing seed pods
Unlike actual wasabi (Wasabi japonica) which is a perennial vegetable, this little wasabi herb is meant to be a short season annual.  They grow, flower, set seed, and die in less than a year.  They can set a decent number of seeds and the seeds are not too tricky to save or germinate.  I decided not to plant my wasabi herb into the vegetable garden in fear of making it bolt to flower and die, instead I grew it in its little pot and harvested its leaves.  I have harvested leaves and have eaten them on sandwiches which cheese, which taste amazing.

It was super easy to grow, I just watered it when I water everything else and picked the leaves when I wanted to eat them.  After I had this plant for a while, and picked and eaten most of its leaves, it stopped growing new leaves.  It  starting to send up a flower stalk.  Being an annual they tend to die after flowering.  Saving seeds was simple and growing from seed was also simple.  I imagine this would self seed easily and take care of itself if I found it somewhere suitable to grow.

I now have many little wasabi herb plants growing.  They don't appear to like the heat of summer, but they are surviving, some are flowering and should produce seed when the time is right.  If you like wasabi and haven't grown this little herb before you should give it a try.  If I have enough extra seed I should sell it through my for sale page.
I ate most of the leaves and then they started to flower

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Microbats eat 1,200 mosquitoes per hour? No they don't.

Microbats in Australia don’t eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour.  This is a common myth that has been spread for far too long by people who should know better.  Like many myths, this one is well meaning but does more harm than good.

Microbats are great, their habitat is shrinking and I think that more people should build and install bat boxes and other artificial shelters for them, I even found some nice free plans here to build one and would like to encourage you to build a few. 

Far too often people are taken in by this microbats consuming huge numbers of mosquitoes nonsense, they build a bat box, then when it doesn’t reduce the number of mosquitoes at their BBQ they tell people not to bother building bat boxes.  This is where the damage is done.

Let’s look at the reality of microbats and you can decide if you still want to build a bat box.  Build them because microbats are great, not because you have misunderstood these creatures and expect them to do something that is impossible for them to do.  I think if you understand the reality of these lovely little animals that you will be just as likely to build a roosting box for them but will be far less likely to convince others not to build them.

In Australia we have less than 90 species of microbat, there is some controversy over the actual number.  Depending on your location there may be 1 or 2 that are native to your region, or there may be 30.  Australia is a big country, not surprisingly it has a lot of diversity in habitat, vegetation and wildlife.  Not surprisingly, different species of Australian microbats have different diets.

Most species of microbat in Australia don’t eat mosquitoes at all.  Several species of microbat that are native to Australia can and do eat some mosquitoes, they just don’t eat them very often and when they do they don’t eat many of them. 

Very few species of microbats in Australia actually eat mosquitoes, most species only eat larger things such as moths, beetles and spiders.  Of the few species of microbat in Australia that ever eat mosquitoes, on any given night the majority of individuals will not consume any mosquitoes at all.  Of the individual microbats who do eat mosquitoes on a given night, the vast majority of their diet will usually be made of moths or beetles, and mosquitoes will only ever be a very small percentage. 
Eastern bentwing bat - picture from Department of Environment and Heritage
We know what microbats eat from a few studies conducted to figure out what microbats in Australia are eating.  If you are curious how they tell what a bat eats, they capture some from the bush and do a DNA analysis of the bat poo.  This test can detect tiny amounts of insects even in a small sample and completely removes all guess work and conjecture.  This test has also disproven the myth that microbats eat thousands of mosquitoes each and every hour. 

Most studies that I have read indicate that very few species of microbat ever eat mosquitoes, but all species of microbat in Australia eat a lot of moths and beetles.  In one study in a QLD grain growing region it was found that 100% of the diet of microbats was grain weevils (weevils are a type of beetle).  This alone disproves the microbats making a noticeable difference to the local mosquito population myth.  If you have ever been to grain growing regions you will notice that there are a lot of mosquitoes, so microbats could eat them if they wanted.  The microbats just prefer to catch larger, slower , more nutritious meals.  It doesn't mean that you shouldn't still build a nice box for bats to sleep in, just that they don't eat significant amounts of mosquitoes.

So far I am yet to find any research where mosquitoes made up a large percentage of a microbat’s diet anywhere in Australia.  If you are a bat researcher or know of any study that indicates otherwise please let me know as I would love to read it.  This has to be a peer reviewed study, not notes someone wrote after claiming to read a study, or some unverifiable and unrepeated observation written for BATS magazine that has been misunderstood and plagiarised by milkwood.

Ever wonder where the microbats eating 1,200 mosquitoes an hour myth first came from?  The ridiculously high numbers of mosquitoes potentially being consumed was extrapolated from a student in Sweden who reported once observing a single bat successfully capture “up to 20 mosquitoes in a minute” using a stopwatch.  One minute, not an hour, not averaged over an entire night, just one minute with a stopwatch in the field and a best guess.  Have you ever watched microbats feeding?  This method is far from accurate.

It gets worse, the field observations were made in northern Sweden during the summer where the sun only dips below the horizon for 90 minutes per night.  During this time the larger, slower, more nutritious insects were not common.  That means that even if this number was accurate it would not be transferable to Australian microbats.

There is no point having a two dimensional simplistic view of the world.  In Australia we have different species of microbats than they have in Sweden, many larger and easier to catch food insects are present here, and our nights are far longer.  All of this means that even if it were true, this unrealistically high number of mosquitoes being consumed is not applicable in Australia. 

Mosquitoes are small and fast and require a lot of energy to catch.  Due to their tiny size a mosquito provides very little return on this large investment.  It is easier to catch fewer but larger food items and have some time for rest, drinking water, searching for roosting sites, courtship etc.  Catching a mosquito every three seconds for hour after hour when there are larger slower food items around just doesn’t happen, it is illogical to ever think that it would.  So please don't be taken in by it.

In Australia, mosquitoes are more of a convenient treat for some microbats rather than a staple food, microbats much prefer to eat moths or beetles.  Notice how I keep talking about microbats in Australia?  I don’t care what happens in other parts of the world, me building a bat box only effects microbats that I may encounter here in Australia.

Why bother encouraging microbats if they don’t eat many mosquitoes?  To put it bluntly, I attract many animals to my yard that don’t eat mosquitoes as they have other benefits, why wouldn't I do the same for microbats.  Many people buy insect zappers with those blue lights, they don’t attract mosquitoes yet it is a thriving industry.  Lowering the numbers of moths and beetles is fantastic and well worth encouraging microbats into your garden.  The microbats don’t just eat the insects, they also disrupt mating which reduces the number of insect eggs laid which has an even larger effect on pest populations. 

Don’t ever be so gullible that you are fooled into thinking that microbats only eat pests, they also eat many beneficial arthropods.  This is the same as spiders and birds eat pests but they also eat beneficial insects.  This is nature, there is no way around it, no use in pretending it isn’t happening.

Strangely very few studies have been done to see how much of a difference microbats make in protecting large scale crops from pests.  I have heard of a few studies that claim microbats significantly lower damage from coddling moth in walnuts, helicoverpa moth in cotton fields, and grain weevils in grain crops, but would love to read more studies.  Again I stress that microbats are great to have around, they just won't make a noticeable difference to the local mosquito population in your back yard.

I have often wondered if encouraging microbats to live near bee hives would reduce the damage from wax moth.  Would running poultry under the hives during the day and encouraging microbats at night reduce pests significantly?  Unfortunately I can find no research (or even anecdotal evidence) that has tested this.  I guess people are too caught up in thinking microbats only eat thousands of mosquitoes per hour that they can’t think of ways to utilise them to actually reduce pests.

Let me stress that I want to encourage people to build and install bat boxes.  Just remember that microbats are great to have around, but they won’t make a noticeable difference to the mosquito population in your area.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Meyer Lemon tree from cutting

I have never been a huge fan of lemons.  There is little doubt that the lemon is the poor cousin of the lime.  To be completely honest, I was never a huge fan of growing any citrus tree, recently this has changed. 

Lemons from my tree
We have had a few citrus trees in the past, some oranges and a few different lemons, they were slow growing, unproductive, demanded huge quantities of water, they died back in the heat, they died back in the cold, branches died from lack of water even though I mulched heavily and watered each afternoon, they seemed to attract every pest known to man, then if you pampered them and watered them and protected them from the sheep and they actually set fruit it was pithy and seedy and more often than not completely filled with fruit fly.

When we moved to our current house it had a lemon tree.  I am happy to say that due to our harsh winters the fruit fly don’t do well here.  The lemon tree had some fruit on it that was ripe, some that was over ripe and rotting, and some that was mummified and appeared diseased, all of which needed to be picked.  I reluctantly picked the fruit while planning to remove the tree and eventually replace it with something else.  As we had some ripe lemons we used them, no point wasting them, and found it to be the best lemon I have ever eaten. 

My lemon tree produces fruit that is smaller than the lemons I can buy from markets, it had a very thin skin with little to no noticeable pith, it was extremely juicy, it was strangely sweet for a lemon, and it seemed relatively productive even though it has clearly not been taken care of.  While I think it is sour some of my kids can eat it straight off the tree or drink its juice without screwing up their faces too much. 
Meyer lemons
After a little research I found that this is a meyer lemon.  Meyer lemons are different to regular lemons in a number of ways.

The Meyer lemon tree was ‘discovered’ in China in the early 1900s (possibly 1908) by Frank Meyer, who was an agricultural explorer.  It is thought to be a natural cross between a lemon and a bitter orange, the exact parentage is debated somewhat.  Like most citrus it does have thorns when young, but as the tree ages it tends to grow less thorns or no thorns.  It is sweeter than most lemons, juicier than most lemons, and has a thinner skin than most lemons. 

This thin skin means that meyer lemons are more difficult to pick, ship, and store for extended periods.  As a home gardener I don’t store anything in warehouses for extended periods, I don’t ship fresh fruit across the globe, and I am not picking for hours at a time so can take the care required not to damage them too badly.  So having thin skin is not a bad thing for me.

This past year I decided to weigh the fruit my little tree produced, in one season it produced over 50 kg of ripe lemons.  This coming season it looks like it will produce a lot less.  If I remember I will try to weigh it, but it is a lot of work weighing fruit that is picked over several months so I may not bother.

Meyer lemon tree cutting
Being such a great tree I decided to grow another one from a cutting.  Who would have thought I would ever consider doing that when I was originally planning to just rip out the tree!

Meyer lemon tree cutting with roots
I looked on the internet and many people say it is impossible for home gardeners to grow lemons from cuttings, or they give strict instructions that they claim must be followed, others claim you need to use rooting hormones or expensive cloning thingies.  I didn’t do any of that.  Perhaps I just got lucky, but for me growing a lemon tree from a cutting really wasn’t that difficult to do.   

I cut off a small branch, loosely tied a plastic bag over the end, and kept it in some water until it grew roots.  You can easily see the roots in the pictures above.  Once the roots were visible I removed the plastic bag and planted it into a pot of soil.  Then I forgot to water it for a while, and had it in too much shade, and so forth, but it is still alive and growing.
Meyer lemon tree cutting is now a proper little tree - look how much it has grown!

I have also planted some meyer lemon seeds.  I know full well that each of these seeds will be different to the parent, most won’t be as good, but I may end up with something even better. 

I also know it can take a few years before the tree is old enough to flower and fruit.  It will be interesting to see how many years it actually takes.

If you plan to grow lemons from seeds it is easier to grow from fresh seeds as dry seeds don’t seem to do as well.  Perhaps they die when dried, perhaps they go dormant and take longer to sprout, I don’t really know or care, I just know it is easier to germinate fresh seeds. 

I found web sites describing how to grow lemons from seeds who claim “non-organic lemons often contain non-germinating seeds” and “Make sure you purchase an organic lemon since some non-organic lemon seeds may be “duds”, incapable of germinating”.  This is utterly ridiculous.  Please ignore anything you hear from people who spread this kind of misinformation. 

Both organically grown and non-organically grown lemon seeds have an equal chance of germinating and growing.  My tree, much like everything in my yard, is organically grown, but if I applied synthetic fertiliser it would not alter the ability of the seeds to germinate.   

Perhaps these people are misunderstanding what they have heard about vegetables?  Maybe they are misunderstanding hybrid sterility due to incompatible ploidy levels, or cytoplasmic male sterility?  Obviously they wont grow true to type as it is Meyer lemons are a hybrid to begin with.  The parents of meyer lemons clearly had the same ploidy level, the fruit is not seedless, they self-pollinate and produces viable seeds, so there is no reason that organic will have more viable seeds than non-organic.

I find it frustrating that people spread these kinds of lies.  Most are well meaning and either confused or are doing it to try and convince people to grow organically.  I grow things organically, and I encourage others to grow organically, but I like to encourage by providing information rather than through making up illogical lies and pretending that things are different than they really are.  People who spread this nonsense are doing far more harm than good.

I grew my lemon seeds by getting some seeds from some lemons that we were juicing, and planting them in a punnet of soil.  I kept this punnet moist, mostly forgot about it, figured it had been so long that they weren’t going to grow, and they grew when they were ready.  I only planted the fatter and more developed seeds.  I didn’t expect many to grow so I put a fair few in.  Unfortunately I didn’t count them but I am guessing that most germinated.

So far all my little lemon tree seedlings have been burned intense sunlight, they have not been watered enough, they are in poor soil, some were pelted with large hail, but they are all surviving.  I don’t have much space so don’t plan to keep many, lemon seedlings are not very winter hardy so perhaps I will wait and keep the largest ones that survive winter.

Maybe one day I will sell lemon trees through my for sale page.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Breeding Superior Slow Bolt Coriander

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) is a herb that you either love or hate.  This does not store well or transport well or dry well, and hydroponically grown coriander that you can get in supermarkets often taste weak, so for those of us who love coriander we must grow it ourselves.

Most people who grow coriander to harvest leaves (the Americans call the leaves 'cilantro') complain that they bolt too easily.  It often feels like any stress from transplant shock, or hot weather, or a change in the weather, or under watering, or over watering, or even looking at them wrong makes them stop growing leaves and start flowering.  Buying so-called ‘slow bolt’ varieties often makes no noticeable difference as these varieties have been grown by the seed company and no selective pressure has been placed on them for reluctance to flower. 
 
Most people adopt one of two responses to this issue, they either stop growing coriander as it is too difficult/low yielding, or they save seed from the best plants each year and add selective pressure for slow bolting plants.  These are both valid and sensible responses.  

Recently I read a paper written by an overseas seed research facility that said “Selection is the most common breeding procedure used in coriander and crossing is non-existent”.

I encourage people to add deliberate selective pressure when saving seeds, I certainly do this myself.  Common sense tells you that if you plant seed of the slower bolting plants (and cull the early flowering ones) then the next generation will be slower bolting.  The main issue with adding selective pressure coriander is that you are working with a small inbred population of plants that have very little diversity in their genetic makeup, so progress is made but it is slow progress.  To really create slow bolting coriander crossing different varieties is essential.  So that is what I have done.

I was given seed of several different varieties of coriander collected from several different countries, plus I already had some that I had grown previously and added selective pressure to.  I grew all  nine varieties being careful to prevent them from crossing, and while each variety was nice and clearly different from one another none of them really thrives in my climate.  The leaf shape and size varied considerably among them, the size and number of seeds was very different between varieties, but they all taste and smell much the same.  I don’t have the time or space to grow nine substandard varieties and keep them all pure, and I really don’t have space to add the selective pressure required to improve each of the varieties separately, so I had a difficult decision to make.
Coriander mass cross, even this tiny some are already flowering due to the heat
Rather than keeping the lines pure and separate, putting in effort to maintain purity, and having nothing that performs overly well here, I decided to plant all of them and produce a mass cross.  They are very distinct varieties, originating from several different countries, meaning there is a lot of genetic diversity among them.  Inbreeding depression will be eliminated from my population through this mass cross event.  From the mass cross or grex, which is comprised of many different potential f1 crosses, I will grow out and allow them to cross as they see fit, all while culling.  

I did three staggered plantings of several seeds from all the varieties to ensure that each variety will flower and cross with each other variety.  It seems strange to be allowing coriander to flower, and not to be culling, but this is only the start.  Every year from now there will be culling, as well as back crossing to the previous year seeds.
  
If I cull hard each year I should be able to create a new variety or landrace of coriander that performs far better in this climate.  While I feel bad that once these have crossed I have no way to get these varieties back, which means that many of these varieties may well go extinct, the end result should be superior to anything I currently have access to.  I only have small numbers of seed of the original varieties left, but if you are a seed saver group and want a few seeds from the original strains and want to keep them pure please let me know before it is too late.
  
I have been harvesting the leaves even from substandard plants, so I am no worse off than just growing all of the different varieties and keeping them pure, and I should never end up with something as bad as I started with.  This first year I have allowed all of the varieties to flower and cross, I have even done a second planting of all the varieties to increase chances of crossing all the different varieties with each other.
 
After this first year, when the lower quality plants begin to bolt they will be culled and not allowed to flower, so each generation the genepool becomes superior to the previous one.
  
When breeding it is important to know what to cull for, to make some culling rules, and to strictly follow those rules.  I plan to cull for firstly amount/size of leaves as that is what I want to harvest from the plants, there is no use having plants that take forever to flower if they don't produce many leaves.  Then I will select for reluctance to bolt as the yield is reduced if they stress and flower too easily.  Then I will select for number of seed produced, then large size of seeds.  

I want to end up with plants that produce lots of leaves and are simple to grow and save seed from each year.  Producing many seeds means I can produce many plants, and large seeds are easier to work with and tend to remain viable for longer, but leaves are the crop here so that is where the main selective pressure is to be added.

Most of these original varieties are 'slow bolt' and 'long standing' and 'giant' leaf varieties, some from hot climates, others from cold climates, this gives a strong yet wide genetic base with which to work.  
  
When I have finished tinkering with this improved coriander variety I may sell seeds through my for sale page.  Currently I am selling the mass cross seeds and allow others the opportunity to create their own new variety that suits their climate.  

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Days to harvest Rhubarb from seed

I was sent a few different varieties of rhubarb seed that was originally collected from different countries.

Very few people grow rhubarb from seed.  It is said to be too difficult, and it is said to take too long.  yet no one ever tells you how long it actually takes.

Most varieties of rhubarb, even if it self pollinates, will not grow true to type and you will not get anything similar to the parent plant.  Each rhubarb variety that I was sent was said to breed true, which I find almost impossible to believe given the polyploid nature of rhubarb.

Each set of seeds looked different to one another, some larger and some smaller.  Each set of seedlings did show a remarkable lack of diversity from one another from that group, yet each group was very different from the others.  Even at cotyledon stage it was simple to tell each group from all the others.

Other than one variety collected from Korea, which I am not convinced is rhubarb or even a species of Rheum, all of these rhubarb varieties went dormant over winter and re-sprouted in spring.

The largest was a variety originally collected in China.  It was the largest right from the start.  The others are not yet ready to harvest.  Some are closer to harvest than others.  They have all grown a lot since the photo was taken.  They have also been battered by the heat and shredded by hail, so I am hoping that they all survive.


Days to maturity Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Seeds planted       04/11/2016       Day 0
Germinated           ??/??/2016        Day ? Oh why didn't I record this!
Harvest start         14/01/2018       Roughly 14 months from seed planted to first harvest

Some of the rhubarb varieties.  Left to right seed collected from: China, Poland, Finland, Germany

Considering that when you buy rhubarb crowns it is not advisable to harvest in the first year, growing from seed didn't really take much longer.  Time will tell which ones are worth keeping.

I also listed the days to harvest from seed for a heap of different vegetables, if you are interested please click here

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.