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Growing Saffron

Renee headshot

saffron flowers
Photo by Getty Images/FotoCuisinette

I love to try growing new things. I love to grow the tried-and-true things, too. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but I always learn something new. Recently, I started thinking about what new plant I could try that would work well for my climate and soil. I thought: "what grows well in a Mediterranean climate?" From my days of living on the south coast of Spain, I immediately thought of saffron. It's a wonderful spice that the Spaniards add to paella and other dishes.

paella
Photo by Getty Images/Beli99

So, I just ordered eight saffron crocus bulbs from Amazon and I can't wait until they get here. I learned about saffron in researching what would grow well around here.

Saffron comes from the stamens in the flower of the saffron crocus. There are only three stamens, so you know it takes a lot to make enough to flavor a dish. This is why it is so expensive. That and the fact that it has to be harvested by hand. Saffron is known as "red gold," but surprisingly enough growing it is very simple. If you have the right climate and soil you can do it. You can also grow it in a pot, but I'm going to grow it outdoors because I live in the perfect climate and I've gotten my soil so it is perfect, too. 

In my locale you plant it from June to mid-September. It will flower throughout October the year after it is planted, so this is a long-term project for me .

You do not grow saffron from seed. You grow it from little bulbs also known as corms. The corms of the saffron crocus like a well-drained soil. So I'm careful to add a lot of compost to my heavy clay. I already have enough sand. My pH is correct (6 to 8). Also my saffron bed is in a sunny place, so when fall comes around next year it will be right for the flowering stage.

I will spread my fertilizer on the surface after I've planted and I will loosen the soil with my broadfork after pulling all the weeds and spreading a layer of straw mulch. I will put the corms into the ground at a depth of about 4 inches and I will space them about 4 inches apart. I do not plan to water in September unless we don't get any rain at all and, if so, I will only water them once.

What I am looking forward to is when my corms mature. I will get 40 corms from my eight if everything goes right. You eventually get five corms from one corm. We'll see how it goes.

I have a chicken-wire-protected garden area. I used the smallest chicken wire possible to keep little varmints out. I've been told that mice and voles are particularly fond of corms. If I see any evidence of tunneling I will encourage them to go elsewhere by mashing the tunnels. Rabbits are not a problem. They are stopped by my secure fence.

Next year I hope to harvest and then I will carefully extract the three red filaments from the pistil with some tweezers.

I will dry them by putting the pistils in well ventilated food dryer, or in the oven on very low with the door slightly open, or in the shade on a hot day. My climate supports drying outdoors. For example, I've had great success drying herbs, tomatoes and figs outdoors.

This is ongoing so I will report from time to time on the status. What unusual plants are you growing?