Saffron is one of the costliest spices in the world due to the manual labor it involves during and after the cultivation process. Saffron’s worth is much more than gold in terms of weight. It is derived from a flower named “Crocus Sativus.” The stigmas and styles of flowers (threads) are collected and dried so that they can be used for many purposes. It is known for its color and flavor all around the world and used in different cuisines. They are also of great use in medicines.
They are native to Europe and the eastern Mediterranean regions like Spain, France, Greece, Iran and Turkey. In India, it is grown in Jammu Kashmir region. The price per ounce is more than $500 because of its extremely labor intensive cultivation. Each flower consists of three tiny threadlike stigmas in the center. As per studies for getting one pound of saffron, 75000 to 80000 flowers are needed to be cultivated and processed. However, for home preparations a little saffron is enough as it turns out to be sufficient for 5 to 6 meals.
Now the question that comes to many people’s mind is: “Can Saffron be grown at home?” Before cultivating a crop, one must have good knowledge about it. Each crop is grown in different temperatures, soil and conditions. For these purpose, it is important to gather information and apply that knowledge practically.
Saffron Bulbs or Corms
Saffron comes in autumn and is a perennial plant. Human touch is needed to the plant right from planting till harvesting. The red threadlike structures or stigmas are the main ingredients that acts as spice and is the main product. The starting point while growing saffron are the saffron crocus bulbs. The crocus bulbs can be bought from a local nursery or one can get it online but make sure they are fresh. Make them you don’t keep them for long after getting them. Plant them immediately. Once you find the crocus bulbs plant them in a yard and especially in the fall month.
Soil Composition for Saffron Growth
A good soil composition is required for saffron growth than the climate. They grow in different soils but normally they require acidic to neutral, gravelly, loamy and sandy soils. Well-drained soil with PH between 6 and 8 is most preferred one. They don’t grow well in clay soils. However for indoor planting, one can easily develop the soil by preparing required composition of soil. Organic matter is necessary to provide nutrients to the plant. Sun is much needed for flowering of this plant hence it has to be sunny outside or planted in a sunny place. Make sure the soil is tilled to loosen it and water should not be able to get collected. Saffron won’t survive in water logged soil.
Planting Saffron Bulbs
The bulbs, corms or tubers whatever name they are called, needs certain conditions to break out, hence planting has to be done at the appropriate time. Roots start forming in the winter or in some warm areas they start forming in the fall. Flowers are formed in the late summer and fall. The ground needs to be weed free and plowing must be done 20 cm deep to help manure and fertilizers seep in. Mulching is carried on in saffron field to keep them weed free or to control the weed growth.
For indoors – Saffron corms can be directly planted in the ground or one can plant them in pots. They need to be inserted 12 to 15 cm (3 to 5 inches) deep in the soil with a distance between the two plantations of about 10 to 12 cm (5 to 6 inches apart). The corms get multiplies over three years of planting i.e. we can get 5 corms from 1 corm that we planted in the first year. Also once the bulbs are planted they don’t need extra care. They don’t even need fertilizers often, once the soil is fertilized it manages after that. Take care of pests and rodents if any present in the garden, as they destroy the crop.
Watering a Saffron Plant
If the soil has adequate moisture content in it, as such, irrigation is not required. However if the field is in drought prone regions, at times it might be required. If the rainfall in an area is below 1.5 inches per week, then watering is required.
Make sure they get sun at least 3 to 4 hours a day and a temperature of 35 – 48 preferable if growing indoors. Watering regime should be carried out till one sees grass-like stuff rising above the soil and after that make sure the temperature is around 50-70 F. Growing saffron crocus is very easy but hand-plucking saffron from the flowers is a tough and manual job which makes its expensive.
Harvesting Saffron Crocus
Saffron crocus harvesting starts in the fall over the period of 3 weeks. Picking saffron is not an easy job as it requires lot of care while picking the flowers to avoid them from damage and breakage. Normally they work 19 hours per day as the procedure is quite long. The flowers are tubular purple in color and in the center is yellow stem, approx. 2 inches long.
If you have planted and harvested saffron flowers at home, open the flowers from their stems and delicately pluck the saffron thread like structure. Let them dry and then store them in an air tight container. We can use them directly or after infusing them in a water or milk as per the demand of preparation. Start trimming the foliage only when you are sure that flowering season has stopped. New buds normally take maximum 7 days to break out after the first bloom. It’s very rare that one might get third bloom from the same plant but it’s always being sure before trimming the foliage.
When the corms turn dormant, never water them. Store them in cool place. Research has also shown successful soilless cultivation of saffron indoors too.