It was in October of 2008 that we first wrote about growing saffron in the home garden. Click here to read Mad About Saffron.
Since those first dozen bulbs were planted, blooming well the second year in the ground, there have been adjustments made to fine tune the method of growing enough saffron to be able to actually taste it in a meal.
In 2009, there was foliage but only one or two flowers. Research was done to find out what was wrong and how to fix it. What we found was that the tiny bulbs will multiply very quickly, choking themselves out. Also we learned that a much sunnier spot was needed to better ripen the foliage that lasts over the winter into spring. It dislikes competition from other plants, too.
So the executive decision was made to clear a dedicated spot in the veggie bed for growing saffron. The bulbs were dug and divided and planted singly, about six inches apart. The total bulb harvest had grown to eighty. They were planted in neat rows.
The next two years, 2010 and 2011 there was foliage only, but more of it in the latter year along with two flowers. That brings us to the third year after the division and replant, 2012. It looks good!
To harvest the useable part of the flower, the red stigmas, I dispensed with the tweezers and used the handy dandy thumbnail. After putting the camera down. Two hands are needed, one to hold the flower open and the other to pinch free the base of the red stigmas.
It is best to wait until the flowers are fully open, around noon, and the innards are dry. The threads can be used at anytime, but will also keep well in a dry, airtight container. Above are the ones harvested in 2011, not enough to use then but they will now be added to the 2012 cache. It takes fourteen thousand stigmas to make one ounce of saffron.
The plan for use will be a savory rice dish of some kind, with vegetables. It will be yummy. The moral of the story is if you want to grow saffron crocus to eat, it is best to forget about using the ornamental value of a pretty fall blooming bulb as a garden design element and treat is as a perennial vegetable, or spice crop. Or that is the way it is being treated here, as an attractive edible.