INFORMATION ABOUT SAFFRON CROCUS…
By: Nikki Phipps
Saffron is a bulbous, autumn-flowering perennial of the iris family. The flowers have three bright, orange-red stigmas which are the true saffron of the Crocus sativus. The plant is indigenous to Western Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years. The French, Spanish and Italians were the first to use it extensively in their cooking.
The world’s largest producer of saffron is Iran followed by Greece, Spain and India. Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices since it is hand picked and handled very delicately. It requires over 80,000 individual flowers to produce a full pound of saffron, which explains why saffron is so expensive.
For the home gardener, however, approximately two dozen saffron crocuses will supply enough of the precious spice in the first year. Then, with each successive year, the corms will multiply, and you’ll be able to harvest more of the spicy stigmas for cooking. After a period of about 4 to 6 years, you should divide (after the foliage has faded) and replant the corms. Division prevents overcrowding, which can lead to a decrease in flowering.
To grow saffron crocus, first locate an area of the garden that receives adequate drainage. Crocus will not thrive in waterlogged soils. Site your bulbs where they will get full sun or very light shade. Saffron crocus does best in full sun and well-drained soil that is moderately rich in organic matter. Ideally, the site you choose should be relatively dry in summer, when the corms are dormant.
Dig holes and plant your bulbs about 3-4inches deep and a couple inches apart. Plant with the points of the corms facing upwards. After planting, water the bulbs well, thoroughly soaking the area. Flowers will appear the first fall after planting and last for about 3 weeks. The grass-like leaves may emerge soon after the flowers or wait until the following spring. When leaves have faded and the bulbs are dormant, withhold water.
Saffron crocus can be grown in areas with cold winters but the corms must be lifted and brought indoors for the winter. After the first few frosts, but before the ground has frozen, carefully dig out the corms, and store in a cool, dry place such as a basement. Plant them again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed, but do not water until you see new growth in early autumn.
If gophers, mice, or voles are a problem in your garden, try planting the corms in containers or line the bed with hardware cloth or a similar wire mesh.