Saffron is one of those spices that is renown for being expensive, I have even put together an article on how to substitute other cheaper alternatives. Obviously though we want to grow our own as well and the crocus is so pretty, we figure what’s to lose?
Saffron crocus is Autumn blooming and will need to be planted in September for a harvest the following Fall/Autumn. They will thrive in well draining soil in full sunlight. Three stigma will be produced per flower, per bulb, but as a perennial they will multiply quickly and by the third year 10 bulbs will become 50.
Saffron crocus are seriously easy to grow and harvest, but seriously expensive to buy in any shop as a spice. So I figure this has to go into the must haves section of any herb garden! Especially as it gives late color in the garden, and much needed end of season food for pollinators. So let’s look at growing and harvesting in more detail.
Growing Saffron Crocus In Pots Or The Ground
This is really straight forward and perfect for beginner gardeners and more seasoned ones alike.
- You can order saffron crocus bulbs online, we got our Saffron Crocus Bulbs from a reputable nursery via Amazon. Buy them from early August until October. Plant immediately as they do not store well.
- Choose a spot with well draining soil and plenty of sunlight. We dig through a green manure to fix nitrogen before planting out. If you are planting in pots, make sure that they have good drainage and use a good quality organic peat-free compost.
- Each saffron crocus bulb will multiply by year three, hopefully around 5 times. So plant in the ground 10cm deep with a minimum of 10cm apart. 15cm if you are inter-planting with Spring bulbs.
- Crocus bulbs are hardy to about -15 degrees Celsius, but if we mulch the ground above they are unlikely to appreciate that low level of temperature. You will not see much for the first season but they will emerge the following year to flower.
- Water the saffron crocus bulbs if the rainfall is particularly low that year, however bulbs that sit in wet soil will rot and your crop will be spoiled.
- Feed once a year if they are in containers and by the third year you may want to divide the bulbs fully to replant elsewhere.
- If you have planted under a tree canopy (we have planted under a young cherry tree) then you may be able to avoid feeding at all.
- You can harvest the stigma once they flower and have had a chance to pollinate.
Word of warning – Squirrels. My parents live in a cul-de-sac called ‘squirrel close’ and are very much on to the sneaky ways of the bulb stealing cuties. So make sure to squirrel proof the area as you may not find out until spring when no foliage appears. Similarly chipmunks and other wildlife in your area may also want in on the crocus bulb action!
How To Harvest And Dry Saffron Crocus
You will need tweezers. Plus time. I recommend bribing the kids to help with this process. Saffron will flower in Autumn for three weeks. We want the flowers to pollinate so waiting until the first two weeks is complete can be a real Russian Roulette with the weather. Too much rainfall can flatten the delicate petals before you can extract the three female stigma. They are bright red and contain the delicate flavor and that all important color.
The stigma takes very little time to dry out and responds well to gentle heat. We go very carefully here and put them on to a flat surface near to a radiator or our log burner. Not on. Only near and then we check on them throughout the day. Friends have used their microwave and laid the stigma flat on a microwave safe dish and put to low for 15 seconds at a time. We prefer to keep it slow and careful.
Really you can grow your own saffron and save money. It is a little time consuming but around 50-60 bulbs will provide you with a heaped tablespoon of saffron. Saffron costs around £75,000 per Kg at the moment. You can easily buy fake saffron that is sold as cheaper alternatives. So growing your own makes sense as a way to avoid this problem.
So, how much does saffron weigh? Around 450 strands weighs around a gram. Each bulb has one flower, each flower has three stigma, which dry to make the strands. Therefore about 150 bulbs make enough for 1 gram each year. A teaspoon of saffron weighs about 0.7 grams. When you realize that you will need around 1/2 teaspoon per paella recipe this gets to be quite a labor intensive process. However as all gardeners will tell you this is a fun process as well. Plus the bulbs will natralize and spread each year. Harvesting is pretty straight forward and you can grow them easily in pots or the ground.
My conclusion is that you have nothing to lose. If you only ever harvest enough for one or two dishes it is a fun little gardening / culinary crossover project. One that is recession proof and will reduce your food miles too!
Food miles from Iran where 90% of the worlds saffron crocus grow is 2700 miles. To the United States it is over 6,000 miles. So growing your own would save a carbon foot print on your food!