Growing saffron is an unusual gardening undertaking, which is actually the harvesting and drying of the red stigma of a particular variety of crocus.
Saffron is so expensive to purchase because each crocus flower contains just three stigmas, it takes 225,000 of them to make one pound of saffron and (drumroll…) each stigma must be tenderly harvested by hand.
Growing your own will give you beautiful flowers in the fall from which you can harvest your saffron for a fraction of the cost. But to have a large amount, you will need to grow large numbers of Crocus Sativus.
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Saffron is grown from Crocus sativus bulbs that are planted in the early summer after the last heavy spring rain about 3 inches (7 cm) below the soil’s surface. The plants lie dormant until the fall then bloom.
Saffron crocus require nutrient-rich (well-composted) but very dry, alkaline soil and are not easy to grow in many parts of the world because of this. If you want to grow some for home use, you might try growing them in pots where you can control the soil and moisture more easily.
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The saffron crocus requires full sun and alkaline garden soil. There should also be adequate air circulation between the plants.
It thrives in areas of the world that receive just 15 to 18 inches of rainfall each year, so a lot of water is unnecessary, especially in the summer after planting. Once they sprout in the fall, don’t let the soil dry out but be careful not to over-water.
The plants will live and bloom for about 15 years, but commercial saffron growers usually only harvest from a plant for about 5 years to ensure the best quality saffron.
Saffron crocus does not require a lot of organic garden fertilizer… just a single application each fall when the bulbs break the ground is enough. Bulbs will multiply and should be divided every two to three years.
To obtain saffron for use in the kitchen, you must hand-harvest the red stigma from the blooms. These can then be used whole to flavor stews and soups, or they can be dried.
Harvest the stigma while the bloom is fresh, so as not to compromise the flavor. Commercial saffron harvesters take the stigmas as soon as the blooms open.
To properly harvest the blooms, cut the flowers and take them to a spot where you can properly work with them. Use tweezers to gently remove the stigmas.
Saffron is dried for storage by laying the stigma out on a paper towel in a warm, dry place for several days.
You may need to cover them with glass to prevent the fine threads from blowing away. Then transfer the stigma to an airtight container for long-term storage.
Some people grind saffron, but it is not necessary and many people believe that the flavor is compromised by doing so.
The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Saffron. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.
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