The cultivation of saffron
The crocus sativus bulbs from our nursery can be best planted from mid-August to late September.
To start your plantation you will need calcareous, humus rich and well drained soil.
The pH value of the soil should be between 6 and 8.
It is also very important that, there have never been grown before flower bulb species from the same family as the crocus sativus, the Iridaceae, on this land. This is to avoid that, your bulbs will get sick by possibly residual pathogens, fungi, bacteria and nematodes.
Even better is to grow your bulbs on a piece of land on which has never been cultivated bulbous or tuberous.
The bulbs can be planted in various ways. How you can plant your bulbs is depending on the moisture-permeable capacity of your soil. If after a downpour puddles remain for a longer time on your land then the moisture-permeable capacity is worse than when the puddles are gone after one hour .
The planting of the bulbs is almost always done by a 'row system'. This means that first a slot from 10 to 15 centimeters deep will be dug out along a straight line. The length of the slot is depending on the quantity of available bulbs and the size of the piece of land that you would like to plant. Once the slot has been dug you can place the bulbs, with their plumes upwards, into the slot.
The distance between the bulbs is depending on the bulb size about where I will tell you more later.
For the distance between the rows each you can take about 15 centimeters.
If you have planted the first row, slide the line 15 centimeters aside and dig the next slot along the line and with the soil coming from the second slot, you cover up the first slot.
At the moment you have planted four rows, it will be wise to keep a path of about 25 centimeters wide between the fourth and fifth row so it will be more easy to perform your work between the bulbs, such as weeding, and of course, harvesting the saffron. You can make such a path after every 4 rows you've planted. If the moisture-permeable capacity of your soil in not so good it will be best to excavate the paths to about 15 to 20 centimeters deep so that the paths can be used as a drain for the rainwater.
If the moisture-permeable capacity of your soil is bad, I recommend to keep a deep path of 15 to 20 centimeters after every two rows.
As I mentioned, the distance between the bulbs is depending on the bulb size, but also on whether you'll leave them in the ground for several years, or that you are going to dig them up every year.
In the commercial cultivation of saffron , the crocus Sativus bulbs remain in the ground for about 5 years after which they are being dug up again. The saffron yield is usually in the second year after planting on its top, after which it remains stable until the fourth year and then decreases. It is true that in the countries where this commercial saffron cultivation has concentrated, the climate ensures that during the summer the bulbs will get enough warmth in the ground, to be able to create their flowers in the bulb for the next flowering season. In countries with a 'cooler' summer, it is highly advisable to leave the bulbs in the ground for two years in a row and then grub them out of the ground. After that, you keep them in a dry place at a temperature of about 23 degrees Celsius until you plant them back in the ground.
If you decide to grub up your bulbs after every two years, a spacing between 5 and 10 centimeters between the bulbs will be enough, but if you want to leave your bulbs in the ground for a longer time, a planting distance between 10 and 20 centimeters will be required. Each year the plants will expand considerably, and that causes that after every year the distance between the plants is being reduced.
Hereby of course applies the shortest plant spacing for the smallest bulbs-sizes and the longest distance to the largest sizes.
If you plant the bulbs in an area where many mice, rats and other rodents live it is advisable to cover your bulbs after planting with some wire netting so that rodents do not get a chance to eat up your bulbs. Crocus sativus bulbs are a real delicacy for rodents.
In the first year after planting the crocus Sativus will bloom between late October and mid-November. The bulbs of size 9/10 will give an average of 1.5 flowers in the first year, size 8/9 an average of one flower and size 7/8 has an average flowering percentage of 20% and is therefore more suitable for a multiannual crop . The exact flowering time depends mainly on when the bulb is planted and the climatic conditions after planting.
In the first year after planting the crocus Sativus will bloom between late October and mid-November. The bulbs of size 9/10 will give an average of 1.5 flowers in the first year, size 8/9 an average of one flower and size 7/8 has an average flowering percentage of 20% and is therefore more suitable for a multiannual crop. The exact flowering time depends mainly on when the bulb is planted and the climatic conditions after planting.
In the course of the fall and winter, the crocus bulbs will make grass-like green leaves that will reach a length of about 30 cm in the spring. The plant also will be green in the winter and can tolerate frost until about -10 degrees Celsius. It may be wise, to hedge the crop with a fleece cloth or some straw as the frost persists, because cold, icy wind can dry out the leaves so that it dies. If the crop, during a period of frost, will be covered with a blanket of snow it will be perfect. Snow is the best covering material you can hope for during a severe winter, it causes the bulbs not to be frozen in the ground and it keeps the crop moist enough so it does not freeze to death. In the springtime, when it is getting warmer, you can fertilize the crop with some organic fertilizer. It's a bit depending on the soil-type and the content of the soil whether you need to fertilize much or little.
During the growth, the crocus Sativus does not have to be irrigated, only in case of extreme drought, a water gift would be very welcome. This can be done best in the evening or early in the morning.
In the course of May or June, depending on the climate in which you grow your saffron bulbs, the crocus leaves will slowly turn yellow and eventually brown. Once the leaves are totally dried up, and you can easily pull them out of the ground, the bulbs are ready for being grubbed out. If you wish to leave the bulbs in the ground for several years, it is best to remove all the withered leaves so it will be more easy to maintain the weeding. As long as the bulbs are in the 'rest fase' the ground can be kept free of weeds by hoeing. Another technique that is used, is burning the weeds with a gas burner. During the cultivation it will be best to pull away the weeds by hand. It is particularly necessary to control the so-called 'root weeds' so that they will get no chance to multiply themselves in the plantbed. Root weeds are very difficult to control because they have a complex root system which is hard to remove, as the plant continues itself to expand throughout the ground.
The saffron harvest!
It is best to pluck the whole flower as it has just opened itself. After you have collected all the flowers you can spread them on a tray or for instance, just on the table. After this, you take one flower and carefully pull out its three red stigmas.
Mostly the pistils are still stuck together with their ends. Because the best saffron is obtained from only the red part of the pistils, you can cut off this parts with your fingernail and throw away the light yellow, and white parts. you can collect all this red parts of the pistils on a dish. When you have collected all the pistols you can proceed with the drying. If you want to do this in a traditional way, you can spread out the pistils on a very dense grid and then toast them over a small fire until the pistils will be sufficiently dry.
A more modern way to dry the pistils is to toast them in a kitchen oven. You spread out the pistils proportionally on a furnace grate that is covered with baking paper. Then place the grate in the middle of the oven and let the pistils dry at a temperature of approximately 90 degrees Celsius.
Keep a close eye on whether the pistils are dry enough because if the pistils remain too long in the oven, the quality of the saffron will be less. Once the pistils do no longer stick together and when they are nicely dried up, you can remove them from the oven. This process will take between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the amount of pistils you are drying at a time. The dried pistils have already the appearance of saffron, but to make it real saffron, the dried pistils should at least be stored for one month in an airtight container, in a dark place.
When after this month you'll open the packaging, the smell of saffron will fill your room and your saffron will be ready for use.