Growing Saffron

Have you ever considered growing your own saffron, instead of being dependant on having to pay the horrendously high shop prices for this king of spices? Saffron comes from the plant crocus sativus, which is an autumn flowering crocus flower and which grows from corms or bulbs.

Crocus sativus reproduces by throwing out new bulblets every year, and when each of those babies reach the size of a whole garlic, they are big enough to flower themselves.

If, initially, you plant 100 crocus sativus bulbs, in a few short years you could have 10 times that amount of plants, from which to extract what is the world's most expensive spice, saffron.

Saffron is actually the red stamen of the crocus sativus flower, and by gathering the flowers, and separating the stamen and drying them, you can grow your own supply of saffron for use in both the kitchen and medicine cabinet.

Growing saffron is easy, read on to see how it is done.

Crocus sativus growing conditions

While countries like Afghanistan where it is hot and dry traditionally grew saffron as a commercial crop, by far the biggest growers are in Spain, usually in the central regions where summers are hot and winters are cold. Saffron likes the extremes of temperature.

Originating in the East, crocus sativus corms were first introduced to Spain in the 10th century by the Arabs. Spain now produces a massive 35,000 kgs of saffron annually, and frequently call it oro rojo, or red gold.

Saffron has also been widely grown in the UK where some places are named after it, and across North America.

Saffron grows well in USDA zones 6 to 9, but in cooler climates it is not advisable to grow them outdoors as severe frost will kill them off.

Ground Preparation for Growing Saffron

  • Ideally, your should finely tilth the ground where you want your saffron to grow, removing as many stones as possible. Stones can made crocus sativus corm lifting difficult.
  • You want your earth to be free-draining as water retaining soil will rot your corms, and finally you want your soil to be organically rich to feed the corms.
  • Do not use ground where you have grown carrots or potatoes in the last three years, as those crops carry disease and pests which will also affect your saffron if the ground was infected.
  • Deep dig the soil over, removing stones and weeds, a couple of months before you plan to plant your crocus sativus corms. This is a good time to add fertilizer to the soil.
  • A few days before planting, lightly rake over the ground to break up the surface crust.
  • You can plant your corms in drills where they are on a raised furrow, with a walking area between each furrow to make hand-weeding easier, or plant them in groups. It is your choice, but whatever way you plant them, you must leave access for weeding. Weeds will easily choke the life out of those delicate saffron plants and ruin your crop.

commercial saffron growing
commercial saffron growing
saffron corms
saffron corms

Planting saffron corms

Plant your saffron crocus corms 4" deep, and 4" to 6" apart. As crocus sativus is an autumn flowering plant, your ideal planting times are late June or early September.

They are quick growers, and if your corms are big enough to produce flowers you can expect your first crop to be ready in October/November.

Corms produce flowers when their circumference reaches around the size of a whole garlic.

If your corms are smaller than that, you can still plant them, but they will take a couple of years to reach maturity in order to flower.

Flowering crocus sativus also produce offshoots which in turn become corms, so each corm you plant will replicate itself over and over until you have thousands of corms, that you can dig up and give away or sell.

saffron harvesting
saffron harvesting
separating the saffron from the crocus flowers is a laborious task which must be done by hand
separating the saffron from the crocus flowers is a laborious task which must be done by hand
dried saffron threads
dried saffron threads

Saffron harvesting

Your flowering crocus sativus plants have long red stamen that frequently poke out between the petals. This is the part you want to keep.

Each flower has three stamen, called threads, and each corm produces 1 - 3 flowers.

Flowering lasts about 3 weeks, but ideally you want to pick your flowers early before predators get to them, like deer, rabbit and even mice. Saffron is a relaxant and many small animals enjoy the effects too.

It is recommended you pick your saffron flowers between dawn and 10am, to catch the most flavorsome stamen. As the day wears on, they lose some flavor.

Once picked, you then have the laborious task of separating the stamen from the petals. You can expect about a tablespoon of saffron from 50 flowers.

The stamen should then be thoroughly dried. This only takes a day or two in a warm dark room. The stamen crackles when you touch it, when it is dried.

Now all you need to do is bottle up your saffron in sealed containers, and your work is over for another year.

saffron after harvesting - the leaves can grow up to 18" tall
saffron after harvesting - the leaves can grow up to 18" tall

The Life Cycle of the Saffron Corm

Your corms have finished flowering but their work is not yet over.

The leaves of the corm continue to sustain the plant and feed the corm which be be setting out new cormlets next to the mother plant.

They will also be feeding the corm and storing energy for next year's crop, so it is very important to leave the plant alone to complete this vital task.

By the following summer the corms will have become completely dormant, ready for growing again in the autumn.

Crocus sativus corms flower well for 3/4 years after which they should be dug up and discarded, planting instead the baby corms that have grown alongside each mother plant. This ensures you have a continuous annual crop.

If, like me, you do not like discarding what are, at that point, perfectly healthy corms (similar to bulbs), then you can continue to let them grow, but you will see your crop diminish as the older corms no longer produce so many flowers - they do still produce corm-lets so you should see yet more plants from this parent.

Corms that are too small to flower should be replanted elsewhere where they can continue to grow and mature.

Growing saffron is easy. It is the harvesting that is hard work, but well worth it.

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Comments 21 comments

Teddletonmr profile image

Teddletonmr 5 years ago from Midwest USA

IzzyM Growing Saffron in my garden, I never would have thought I could grow my own, you make it sound easy and a lot of fun to boot, thanks for the edea. Mike


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I'm waiting on the market man having a supply in - he says it'll be August/September before he has them. I can't wait to grow them!!


Teddletonmr profile image

Teddletonmr 5 years ago from Midwest USA

I am looking forward to learning how you do growing your own Saffron in your garden. Please keep us posted. Mike


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I will do, although it might not be too easy here in the south of Spain - winters are mild and saffron likes the extremes of temperature, plus they need a lot of water in the autumn and it is arid here. Tap water is chemical and plants hate it! But I'll try it anyway.


susan 5 years ago

how does the ordinary English crocus differ.I seem to have several different types of crocus in my old garden.Some I seem to remember having red stamens! or maybe is just wishful thinking. I look forward to next year to check them out.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

The ordinary crocus flowers in Spring, saffron flowers in autumn, always. There is no spring flowering saffron. Don't experiment to find out, as many crocuses are poisonous.


The Blagsmith profile image

The Blagsmith 5 years ago from Britain

I hope both the weather and luck smiles on you Izzy and that you manage a good crop.


Robin profile image

Robin 5 years ago from San Francisco

I love to read Hubs like this, learning something I had no knowledge of before! I had no idea how saffron was harvested and grown! Thanks!


susan 5 years ago

Thanks Izz maybe I will get some saffron crocus,like yourself I love to experiment with something new.


HUREE profile image

HUREE 5 years ago

really intresting to have knowledge in something new.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

and something new to try :)


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Have to say that the saffron looks very pretty growing Izzy, and saffron is such an expensive spice that it must be well worth the effort of growing it.


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I think the growing of saffron is the easy part. It's the getting up at dawn to pick them, then having to sit and separate them, and finally drying the threads that would put would people off.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

What a wonderful idea! This is indeed THE most expensive spice in the store, and I did know it had to be hand-processed, but your explanation of 'how-to' is great.

Our soil drains well, but is not very rich, being chiefly sand, so additives would be needed. Our yard is watered with well water, which does have a fairly high iron content... (one year, we filled our portable pool with the well water, and the pool chemicals turned it the color of orange soda pop--that was certainly surpirsing!)

I must try it growing this plant, but I expect I shall have to confine myself to just a few plants in a couple of flowerpots, as we have a massive population of gophers, who think anything we plant in the ground is for their benefit!

I wonder--once harvested and sealed in a jar, how long does it retain its flavor and herbal benefits?

As for getting up at dawn? Not me. But "before 10:a.m.?" Hmmm... 9:30 should work. ;-)

Voted up, awesome and useful!


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I'm not terribly sure how long it keeps for, but it has to be for at least a year. (One harvest to the next). I forgot to mention above that is might be a good idea to dip the corms in fungicide before planting as they damp off easily, apparently. Iron in well water? Does that make it heavier than normal water?? (joke) I think the idea of picking the flowers early in the day before the petals open is because the sun depletes the threads of flavor and color so the earlier in the day they are picked the better.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

This was useful hub about saffron. I really enjoy reading this hub and it open my eyes about growing saffron. I'll show this to my father. He love gardening. You have beautiful pictures above. Thanks for writing this. Vote it up!

Prasetio


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Prasetio :)

Can't help thinking that growing saffron might even be more profitable than writing about it :)


nonie 5 years ago

is it suitable to grow it in malaysia?


IzzyM profile image

IzzyM 5 years ago from UK Author

I would imagine so, although to be honest I do not know the climate of Malaysia. Try it and see :)


fashion 5 years ago

This is a great and useful hub about saffron.Growing saffron is useful.I love gardening,so i love it.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 5 years ago from America

We live where the temp drops to 40 below and we grow crocus. Their the first to pop up their heads in the Spring right through the snow.

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