Saffron isn’t a spice that we use a huge amount of but like most gardeners I like to experiment with growing as many different things as possible in my garden. Saffron is quite easy to grow. It is produced from the stamen of Crocus Sativus. The crocus are a group of small flowering bulbs. Most types of crocus flower in the spring, but the saffron crocus flowers in the autumn, not long after the leaves are produced. For me this year it was in April.
Saffron is produced from the stamens which are the bright red strands hanging from the flowers in the picture. To harvest you simply pluck the stamens out of the flower, preferably as soon as possible after the flower opens, but I have harvested a few days after opening and they seem to be fine. However it can be a bit of a battle to get to them before the snails do. After harvesting you just have to leave the stamens in a cool dry place, preferably out of the sun to dry for a few days. Then you can store the saffron in a sealed jar or the like. In the picture below you can see some fresh saffron laid on some paper towel to dry along side some that has been drying for a few days.
Growing saffron is really quite easy. Try to choose a site that will get full sun and has very good drainage. Like most bulbs, saffron crocus bulbs will rot if the drainage is poor. If you have heavy clay soils consider growing the saffron in a raised bed, or at very least dig in some grit to open up the soil. Remember that many bulbs are originally from mountainous areas with freely draining soils and lots of sunshine.
When planting bulbs of any description you should plant them at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb. Saffron crocus bulbs are quite small (1-2cm high) so plant at a depth of 4-5cm. Some recommend covering the soil with a 1cm layer of gravel which I haven’t bothered with since I replanted the bulbs, but was quite successful when I used it in the past. Plant the bulbs from December to January (in the Southern hemisphere), unfortunately you have missed your chance this season. Put it in your calendar for December. You can grow the bulbs in pots if you like but generally they will do better in the ground.
The saffron bulbs will flower for 2-4 years but eventually will need lifting and dividing as the number of flowers you get will decrease. If you have been growing them in a good site you will find that the bulbs have multiplied many times so you will probably have more bulbs than you know what to do with. Give them away to friends and family – spread the love! The first year after replanting you probably won’t get much in the way of flowers, but they should flower well in subsequent years if you have chosen the site well. They will benefit from a fertilising after flowering.
When I was living in the UK I bought my first lot of saffron crocus from the flower market in Amsterdam. I you have the chance to do this I would recommend it. It is a bit of a gardeners utopia with a huge variety of plants and bulbs. However if you live in Australia or New Zealand I would recommend Boobook Hill Saffron (click to visit). They are who I bought my bulbs from and the bulbs were healthy, good sized ones that grew well. Being in Tasmania I don’t think they have any quarantine restrictions on shipping to other areas of Australia. For those in other countries,
Amazon has sellers who will ship saffron crocus bulbs direct to you. Click here
or on the image to the right for more information.
So give it a go! This is something that is easy to do and the bonus is that you get an expensive spice freshly grown in your backyard along with some autumn colour. Be sure to post a comment below to let me know about your experiences growing saffron or if you have any questions. And if you like the article please share it with others. Thanks for reading!