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planting and growing saffron

 
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I planted saffron corms last fall. I wasn't even sure if they could survive here, but I planted them in a street side bed which stays very hot and dry during their dormant season. I'd just about given up this year, thinking that the heat killed them. Then I saw the first flower. Only 12 flowers this year, but considering there was only one flower the first year... Poking around online, it seems like this kind of multiplying is typical, so I hope to soon have respectable numbers. I had just enough this year to make one recipe.

Mashed saffron cauliflower is pretty tasty. I think I'm more sensitive to the saffron that my mother. I used half the threads and thought it tasted extra buttery, then added the remainder because my mother couldn't taste the saffron at all. With the rest of the saffron the cauliflower is noticeably sweeter and I get some of the floral notes. I can see how easy it would be to overdo it with this spice.

It's actually a pretty good return on my time. Every now and then I'll splash some water in their corner if we go several weeks without rain, just enough to keep the lavender in that corner alive. Otherwise, I just let frog fruit cover the bed and only weed out stray bits of grass. No fertilizing and the frog fruit can almost hold it's ground against the grass. After I put them in the ground, the only effort on my part was going out for a few days in November to pluck the threads. Not enough for commercial farming, but probably a good idea for most homesteaders.  
 
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That's exciting! Saffron crocuseseses are on my list, too, for the herb garden I'm starting next year. This will be an herb garden for large amounts of herb to dry, make vinegars, and essential oils. So the saffron crocus will fit in well. It's a full sun area, so they should do well. I've never grown them, but I've read that they really aren't that difficult to grow. I guess it's the harvesting that is time consuming and tedious. But I don't mind jobs like that - it makes me slow down and relax. Plus, I can do a lot of daydreaming while doing tasks like that!

Congrats! Now . . . what the heck is frog fruit?! lol
 
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Growing up in PA Dutch country in the 50's & 60's, saffron was both a table staple and a cash crop.  Apparently still is. Yellow Dutch

 
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We are planning on putting in 100 this next year and have plans to add to them every year after.
I have been setting up the upper hill side along our road for growing saffron.
I've been told (and read) that it will take around three years to get multiple flowers per corm. Every year you should get another flower per corm.
Corms should be divided about every 5 years, which means that every five years you will double your number of saffron corms.

When I lived in NY state, a friend's father had a little patch (150' x 150') that grew all the saffron his family needed for a year.
That patch was started with only 10 plants but when I saw it, it had been there around 25 years and was magnificent to see in September when the flowers bloomed.

I know you are going to love growing saffron Cassie, sounds like you have a great start already.

Redhawk

Addendum : saffronbulbs.com/culture.htm  is a good information site on growing saffron and what critters will want to harm your culms
 
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Here is a long article from an older issue of Saveur magazine all about Spanish saffron.

I found it really interesting and think you folks would enjoy it too.

Saffron Article
 
Casie Becker
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The articles I've read on saffron either focused more on the cooking or the growing of it. Thank you for the link to these other articles which give more information on the history and culture associated with the spice.

I'm going to hope that my choice of ground cover will protect my tiny crocus plot from the ravages of our chihuahua sized squirrels. I had thought that since most crocus are poisonous, this variety would be unappealing to pests. When they get big enough to need division, I may plant them with some protective companions. I have another fall blooming bulb (oxblood lillies) that I could plant them amongst that is definitely poisonous.
 
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Steven Edholm, the eclectic genius behind Skillcult.com, grows his own saffron in northern Californis--check it out:

http://skillcult.com/blog/2016/11/20/saffron-growing-the-most-expensive-spice-at-home
 
Mother Tree
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I couldn't resist any longer.  My other half loves to cook and was extolling the virtues of real saffron, so I bought these...



It's right at the end of the planting season, and they've already started to sprout, so I'll have to plant them this afternoon.  

On the plus side, as it's so late in the season the seller sent me 47 instead of the 25 I paid for!

Here's a video I found in the article linked to above.



They are autumn flowering and supposedly perfectly adapted to the climate here in Portugal so with luck we'll have some saffron to test before very long.  

Watch this space...
 
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https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01140671.1997.9514002?needAccess=true

http://www.boobookhill.com/Kiwi%20Saffron.pdf

research was conducted on growing saffron in NZ many years ago and several regions were identified as being suitable for growing it, Central Otago being amongst them. Sam Neill's vineyard is located on one of the original test sites and although he continues to grow it, it is not sold - he found the labour costs prohibitive. I purchased corms from two different growers and was also gifted some. I have noticed a marked difference in the colour, size and maturity dates of the different clones. The flowers have a beautiful sweet scent and  it almost seems criminal to pluck and discard them. I have dehydrated some petals to use in pot pourri. They are amazingly robust and will continue to produce flowers even when overcrowded, the yield is reduced and it is difficult to find the flowers if they are not divided every 4 - 5 years. Each mother corm produces 4 - 5 daughters so you can imagine how crowded they become. I feed and mulch the bed in summer when all the foliage has died back, try to keep the couch grass from taking over and leave them be. They are remarkably easy to grow, just ensure that they are in a well drained bed, they succumb to fingal diseases very easily.
mother-and-daughter-corms.jpg
mother and daughter corms
mother and daughter corms
saffron-bed.jpg
saffron bed
saffron bed
saffron-blossoms.jpg
saffron blossoms
saffron blossoms
drying-fresh-saffron-spice.jpg
drying fresh saffron spice
drying fresh saffron spice
saffron-overcrowded-bed.jpg
saffron overcrowded bed
saffron overcrowded bed
 
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Burra Maluca wrote:I couldn't resist any longer.  My other half loves to cook and was extolling the virtues of real saffron, so I bought these...



Great minds think alike!

I have been vaguely aware that saffron crocuses supposedly do at least OK here, but I never gave it a second thought because:

1) as the world's most expensive spice, I never encountered it beyond seeing a few threads in a tiny expensive vial in fancy shops; so
2) I had no reference in my working-class-origins life for its flavor or why I should consider it useful as anything but "overpriced turmeric"; and
3) when I came to understand the finicky and laborious method of harvest, I was immediately certain that I would never have the patience to harvest it in any useful quantity.

However, it came up in conversation in our kitchen awhile ago when my spouse kinda wistfully spoke of wanting to try some fancy internet recipes but not wanting to buy the necessary saffron.  Me: "I think I can grow it here, but harvesting is a nit-picky pain in the ass."  Her: "Well, I could snip the little flower parts off, I like finicky little tasks like that."  And she does!  She has a mild OCD-type thing I call "feather plucking" where attention to repetitive minute details that drive me up a wall makes her happy.  She almost seems to find it calming.  I had never considered asking her about this because generally she's not real involved in the garden/growing projects.  

Then yesterday I was hanging out with a friend who sometimes dabbles in very fancy cooking, just because he lives even deeper in "Red State Food Hell" than I do, and you gotta take matters into your own hands if you want to eat well.  He started showing me his stash of expensive ordered-over-the-internet saffron fronds, and it reminded me that saffron was on my list to research further and maybe get started with.

That's where I'm at now, only doing serious research.  So far none of the US suppliers I've looked at are still in stock, so I may not actually get started until next year.  But reading all the info by people who are deeply in love with using saffron in their cooking makes me look forward to the year when I can finally maybe grow enough to taste and enjoy it.

Meanwhile I found this one article that had some interesting, potentially useful notes on growing the stuff.  One researcher in Vermont is growing it in a hoop house in milk crates, which can then be stacked and stored away when the plants are dormant.  And I wanted to share the article anyway because of another  enthusiast who got so excited, he bought 10,000 corms (!!!) to plant for the first time and then planted them in plastic tub type containers.  “I went a bit overboard with my first crocus order,” he admitted.  Gosh, ya think?  This photo is of his beds of tubs, but fair warning: he says the tubs weren't deep enough for the root systems and so it all needs to be replanted.



saffron-in-tubs.jpg
Growing saffron crocuses in plastic tubs in Vermont
Growing saffron crocuses in plastic tubs in Vermont
 
Bryant RedHawk
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If you don't want to pull the flowers to harvest the saffron threads, buy a pair of long forceps (um, tweezers to most folks) and then rub the tips across a file to sharpen the tips to almost a point.
This will give you flat sides that will act like a knife when you grab the base of the thread, grab, twist the tweezers enough to engage the knife edge and you have just harvested the thread without destroying the flower.
Sure this takes forever to do a days harvesting but you get to have your threads and still smell the flowers.

tubs would need to be at least 18" deep but most likely 24" would be better.
This is one of my "Honey would you" list items.

Redhawk
 
Dan Boone
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OK, I've been giving some thought about how to grow this stuff in my systems, especially in early years when I'm working with smaller numbers of bulbs and waiting for them to propagate into larger numbers.

My bad habits as a gardener revolve around inattention to "out of site, out of mind" items and very poor ability to weed things that aren't currently visible and producing.  Which means that summer-dormant saffron is in for a rough time around here unless I plan very carefully.

My scheme is to have start with a large container on my forest of pallet tables (so it will be up at hands-and-eyes level) and then I simply *must* have a companion planting in the same container to draw and hold my attention to the container during the summer, so that I can keep it weeded.  The challenge, though, is that my containers typically demand a high level of watering during the summer; but saffron crocus wants much more limited summer watering.  (I probably get enough natural rain in all but the droughtiest summers.)  So, what can I plant as a companion that will be doing something interesting in the summer that will not compete too much, but which will have similar (low) water demands?

Currently my best idea: I have an opuntia cactus of uncertain species I grew from a seed about four years ago that's inside in a small pot.  I think it came from Tradewinds fruit and it's supposed to be a tasty-fruiting variety.  I've never had the courage to set it up outdoors in a permanent location because I am uncertain if it's cold-hardy in my zone; but "a ship in harbor is safe..." and all that jazz; I suppose if I put it in the center of the tub and planted saffron bulbs all around it, they have similar needs for well drained soils and good nutrition.  I can always keep a cutting from the opuntia for propagation indoors in case it doesn't like being exposed in a tub, and try again in a more protected location next time.  

So, who has other ideas for saffron crocus companion plantings?  Ideally I'm looking for stuff that doesn't compete too badly in the root zone, won't shade the container unduly in spring or fall (so low growing in general, or sparse in foliage), is tolerant of low water situations, and does something productive or interesting during the high summer so that I'll be paying attention.  
 
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I've also been looking to grow my own saffron! Hubs is a retired chef, and some of our favourite things, like bouillabaisse, are just NOT the same, without it - and it gives me a great excuse to grow crocus, which I've always loved. My primary difficulty, this last couple years has been finding a corm source, that I can trust. Does anyone have sources? Or maybe corms to sell?
 
Dan Boone
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Carla, the word that stands out for me in your post is "trust."  If you are planning to buy a thousand corms or some such similar investment, it makes perfect sense: you need a seller with a good reputation to make that kind of expensive leap.

But if, like me, you're planning to buy a relatively small number of corms and grow them out into enough bulbs to be harvesting from, you might consider what I think of as "statistical trust."

This was a notion I came up with in the early days of eBay (the 90s) when there were a lot of dodgy sellers and nobody had really learned the power of online trust ratings yet.  I simply made a rule: I'll never bid more than half what I'm willing to pay for a thing.  Since more than half my transactions always worked, this meant I didn't even have to worry or care about any particular seller.  If he flaked, he flaked; I was still ahead of the game.  I started trusting the math instead of the sellers.  It was an enormous shift in my thinking that freed me up to do many thousands of small transactions without stress.

Bringing this back to crocuses:  What I did last fall was place small eBay orders from six or eight international orders.  Since Spain and Portugal are the place where saffron-growing is most famous as far as I know, I ordered one fairly expensive set of corms from a seller with a plausible "my family has been growing for three generations" sales patter.  I ordered another such, slightly cheaper, from Bulgaria, where saffron is also big business apparently.  And then, for volume, I placed about six different orders from utterly-dodgy sellers in several different Asian countries.  None of these last were more than two or three dollars each, delivered, while the European ones were more like $10 and $14.  

Ordering botanicals from China over eBay is dodgy as hell -- mixed with the wonderful bargain sellers there is often fraud, and you never know what you'll get.  Plus, the weeks in transit can be hard on botanical stuff.  But it's CHEAP if you shop carefully.  I had warnings that some Chinese sellers were trying to pass off other flower bulbs, and that corms, if real, would be very small.  No worries, they were also very cheap, and I spread my risk across multiple small orders.

In the event, Portugal came through with four large, fat, beautiful corms.  Bulgaria delivered half a dozen slightly smaller corms, many of which were doubles and much less aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but very nice looking nonetheless.   And over the following two months China, Thailand, and India packages came trickling in.  The corms were generally much smaller and less "perfect" in some way -- softer, discolored, already sprouting -- but since I had proper ones from Portugal I was able to confirm visually that I at least got crocus bulbs.  Nobody flaked, and for the price of four corms from Portugal I got another couple dozen corms from the totally-untrusted sources.  

Statistical trust has never failed me yet.  Good luck finding some corms!
 
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I've been growing saffron for quite a few years and I need to dig them and divide, but everything I'm reading says do it in the fall immediately after the foliage withers and dies. Problem is, we didn't have a cold enough winter and the green grass-like leaves never died, bright green, pliable and really long. Can I dig them and divide them now in the spring or should I wait until next year?
 
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An interesting side note: Saffron is being studied as a promising treatment for depression.
 
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Denise, your question reminds me of when Sepp Holzer talks about his "shock" method of transplanting fruit trees. I'm not sure if the principles still apply to your saffron.

Do you have enough saffron that you can afford to experiment with your dividing project?
 
Denise Kersting
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Unfortunately, I don't have much (maybe 15 or so). I had tried to move them to containers several years ago, and the pots didn't drain well and the containers got soggy and froze over winter. Those were mush come spring. The few that I have now are ones that I missed when I dug them to transplant. I see most places near me that ship the corms send them in August to my location, maybe I should try then? What is Sepp's "shock" method, if you don't mind me asking? Thanks! (edit to say the original plants are roughly 10-12 years old).
 
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I've just pulled mine up and hung them in a string bag in a cellar till August. The leaves had finally dried off and the roots withered, so it was the right time. Here in Italy the bulbs are stored over the summer to protect them from mice, boar, porcupines, mould etc...
 
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I love this. I discovered just last night that the UK used to be the worlds largest producer of saffron, and the town Saffron Waldon gets its
Name from the industry!

I’m definitely keen to grow some in future.
 
Ash Jackson
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Denise Kersting wrote:What is Sepp's "shock" method, if you don't mind me asking? Thanks!


My short-short mangling of Sepp's Shock Method:
When Sepp re-plants fruit trees, he removes all the leaves when it is re-planted, even if it already has leaves.
(This of course is so the trees put energy into roots instead of leaves/fruits)


Thus, I'm wondering whether your plants that already have leaves could be de-leafed upon division/replanting and have the same effect.  Like I said, I don't know if the principle still applies.
 
Denise Kersting
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Thank you Ash, maybe I'll give it a shot with some of what I have remaining, I've done similar with rose replanting. I find it interesting Geraint that you have to pull them, we have a cat, so mice aren't much of an issue, and I live in a city, so boars and porcupine are out! But it gives me hope that maybe I could pull them, let them dry out, and replant in August. I'll let everyone know if I have success.
 
Michael Cox
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I just ordered 60 saffron bulbs, arriving July for planting in August and flowering in the Autumn.

:)
 
Michael Cox
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Denise Kersting wrote:I've been growing saffron for quite a few years and I need to dig them and divide, but everything I'm reading says do it in the fall immediately after the foliage withers and dies. Problem is, we didn't have a cold enough winter and the green grass-like leaves never died, bright green, pliable and really long. Can I dig them and divide them now in the spring or should I wait until next year?



The stuff I have read suggest the opposite. The grow through early Autumn, and flower in late Autumn. They keep their leaves until late spring and go dormant in summer in the heat. Lifting, dividing and planting is advised in late summer. The ones I have ordered are not available until July, for planting in August.
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