Saffron how to grow

How to Grow Saffron Indoors

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Saffron is one of the most expensive herbs in the world which is why it’s such an amazing idea to learn how to grow saffron indoors in your own home! You get to save money AND grow a beautiful, aromatic herb that can bring a little bit of magic to any dish! It may be a little hard to find saffron bulbs at your local nursery, but you should have a very easy time finding them online!

How to Grow Saffron Indoors – A Gardening Guide

Removing saffron threads with tweezers

Planting Saffron:

  • Purchase saffron bulbs from a reputable nursery or online store.
  • Be sure that the bulbs are saffron cocrus and not autumn meadow crocus.
  • To figure out how many corms you may need, follow this rule: three threads per person times the number of people in the family times the number of saffron dishes made per year. For example, if a family of four has saffron dishes once every two months or so, they need 24 plants.
  • Generally, saffron corms should be planted in the fall, and indoors is the perfect climate for them as they do not tolerate wet soil.
  • Lay 1-2 inches of fine gravel or coarse sand at the bottom of a 6 inch planter. Fill the rest of the container with rich, well draining potting soil.
  • Plant the corm about 2-3 inches deep with the points facing up.
  • Cover with soil and space each bulb 2-3 inches apart.
  • Place the saffron cocruses in a cold room (35-48F), and make sure they get about 4-6 hours of sun a day.
  • Water the bulbs lightly every other day until the grass-like foliage begins to day back. This usually happens around April.
  • After that, move the container to a warmer area (50-70F).

Care:

  • The flower stigmas (there should be 3 per flower) must be harvested from the blooms the same day they open.
  • Snip open the flowers from their stems and tweeze the saffron threads from the bloom. Lay the thread on a paper towel to dry.
  • Store the threads in an airtight container.
  • To use saffron, either toast the the strands and grind them into a fine powder or infuse them in a liquid.

So now that you know how to grow saffron indoors, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to planting!

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Saffron crocuses (Crocus sativus) erupt into bloom in autumn, providing a brief flash of color before the gloom of winter arrives. They are somewhat fussy about their growing conditions, which makes them difficult to grow indoors. Providing the right conditions both above and below the soil line will help increase the likelihood of success, but some saffron crocus corms may fail to grow even under ideal conditions.

Climate and Temperature

Saffron crocuses originated in the Mediterranean region and will grow outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 8. They do not need a cold period, or vernalization, to set flowers and instead rely on a six-week warm spell during their late summer dormant period. During dormancy, temperatures must stay above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to prompt foliage production and blooming.

Container and Soil

Saffron crocuses need plenty of space and soil. Its corms are typically planted 2 to 4 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Plant individual corms in 6-inch-wide and 8-inch-deep pots, or plant up to five corms in a cross formation in a 12-inch-wide, 8-inch-deep pot. Whatever size pot, make sure it has at least two drainage holes at the base because saffron crocuses will quickly die in wet soil.

Fill the bottom half of the pot with a gritty, fast-draining soil mixture such as equal parts potting soil, milled peat and coarse sand. Arrange corms on the soil with the root end down and the pointed end facing up, and nestle them onto the surface. Cover them with a 2-inch-thick layer of soil.

Growing Conditions

Spring is generally the best time to start autumn-blooming bulbs such as saffron crocuses, although most commercially available bulbs should be planted in late summer as they become available. Once potted, place them within 1 to 2 feet of an unshaded south- or west-facing window with at least eight to 10 hours of direct light each day, preferably more.

Temperatures above 70 degrees are best for growth. Avoid temperatures in excess of 80 degrees because they encourage fast growth, which results in floppy, spindly foliage. Temperatures below 70 will not send the corms into dormancy, which will prevent blooming in autumn. In cooler climates, it may be necessary to place the pot on a heating coil or to cover the pot with a glass cloche to hold in heat. Leave the cloche off for a few hours after watering to limit condensation inside.

Care Basics

Saffron crocuses need very little care throughout the year. Keep the soil dry during the summer when they are dormant, then begin watering in late summer or early autumn when their first sprouts appear. Flood the soil and let it dry out completely before watering again.

Fertilizer is not typically necessary for potted saffron crocuses because it can provide too much nitrogen, which will promote foliage growth over flowering. Simply repot the corms into fresh soil the following spring after the flowers and foliage die back and put them back in their original position. Discontinue watering after midsummer to let the corms go dormant.

During the winter, move the pot in a cool room with bright light to let the corms rest. Maintain temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees F. Water sparingly, barely dampening the soil when it feels nearly dry beneath the surface.

Harvest Tips

Saffron is ready to harvest once the cup-shaped purple flowers open up to reveal their tangerine-orange stigmas, which make up the spice called saffron. Pluck off the little stigmas with a pair of clean tweezers and place them in an airtight container for storage. Use them sparingly to color and flavor cooking.

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The price of gold skyrockets in unsteady economic times. But since you can’t grow gold, saffron might be the next best thing.

In fact, at one time the price per gram of the world’s most iconic metal was actually the same as this purple plant anyone can grow. Now, the current estimated price per pound of saffron is $1500 (a little more than the price of an oz of gold) and some varieties even fetch up to $10k for a pound.


So, I had an idea: leveraging the extreme control that’s now possible with indoor farming operations to design an environment capable of mass producing this high-value commodity.

see this new article on growing other rare plants in hydroponics and vertical farms

Peyam Barghassa of hydrofarm.com, one of the few people writing about growing saffron hydroponically, was generous enough with his time to talk about the feasibility of such a project.

Peyam found that he could grow 72 saffron corms (corms are like bulbs) in 8 square ft in a hydroponic table inside his greenhouse. His corms flowered and were ready for harvest within 3 months. When it came to taking care of the plants, Peyam said “No pollination needed.” Just watering. “You harvest the stigmas (that’s the saffron herb with all the color). Saffron is a weird mutation in nature (has no male part) so seeds are never formed.”

You don’t have to worry about saving seeds, the bulb goes dormant during the summer, and the process begins anew. I suspect you could accelerate that process with more environmental controls and Peyam agrees you can at least mimic optimum conditions.

He didn’t get into any overly technical processes within his greenhouse, either. I asked him if he had considered any methods like NFT or ebb and flow. “I did flood the table one time with a very low flood (since the blocks are so short),” Peyam answered. “But mostly just top watering with a watering can.”

This is the point in our conversation when I was elated. A relatively short planting to harvesting time with a low technical investment that produced such massive returns was more than intriguing and definitely within reach. I was ready to order the corms.

Unfortunately, reality had to kick in. “I read somewhere 75,000 blossoms to produce a pound” Peyam said. Even considering each corm can produce up to three blossoms, that’s still 25,000 corms needed for just 1 pound.

Photo from the BBC showing an outdoor saffron field

On top of that, saffron is one of the most tedious crops to harvest, requiring harvesters to gently pluck each fragile stigma from inside the blossoms. In fact, besides the arid climate, Iran is only the world’s largest saffron exporter because the cost of labor is so low.

Finally, based on Peyam’s figures, the space investment/pound of the precious stigmas would be 2777 sq. ft of hydroponic space. With a space that large, your value/sq. foot wouldn’t be comparable to other high-value, and faster growing, herbs.

All that said, there is room to innovate. You could certainly grow more efficiently by growing vertically, whether that’s with a tower structure or with stacked shelves depends on future experimentation. There may even be a way to streamline labor without compromising quality. Though there isn’t a formula for either of these things, there is space to improve.

I was happy to shoot my pipe dream through Peyam, but unfortunately, hydroponic saffron is not the next get rich quick success story waiting to happen. I’ll be on the lookout though, and if you think of something first, feel free to let me know.

If you want to learn to grow crops hydroponically or more about urban vertical farming, sign up for our mailing list. I send articles that touch on these topics and more with a lot of behind the scenes action. See you there!

This article was a bit different than what I usually write about. First, I was excited to involve someone else, like I did with John here, but I was also glad to talk about an idea that I actually began to pursue. As a result, this article felt more personal to me. Let me know what you thought on twitter (@proverticalfarm) or by signing up for my mailing list and dropping me a line.

Saffron Bulbs Kesar Kashmiri Flower plant bulbs pack of 10 Rare Spice plant bulbs

Saffron bulbs germination only when day high temperature is below 30C and flowering only when day high remains below 10C, please check second image for actual bulb size

Kindly research local weather about growing and flowering, saffron will not flower in every part of India, only Cold areas these can be grown

These are genuine kashmiri saffron bulbs sourced from kashmiri farmers, many fake videos are circulating on youtube of growing saffron in Rajasthan Up or haryana villages which is not saffron , and nothing to do with us or our bulbs

Saffron Bulbs Kesar Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmata, which are the distal end of a carpel.

Saffron Bulbs Kesar Common name: Crocus sativus
Color: Lilac purple
Bloom time: September to October
Height: 0.25 to 0.50 feet
Difficulty level: easy to grow

Saffron Bulbs Kesar Planting & Care
When you plant your saffron crocus bulbs, place them in the ground at about 3 to 5 inches deep and at least 6 inches apart. About 50 to 60 saffron flowers will produce about 1 tablespoon of saffron spice, so keep this in mind when figuring how many to plant.

Sunlight: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Soil: well-drained soil

Water: Medium

Temprature: Below 30C only , no germination above 30C

Fertilizer: Apply any organic fertilizer

Care:

  • Dig holes and plant the crocuses 3-4″ deep and 2-3″ apart.
  • The bulbs are small and rounded, with slight pointed tops – plant with the points facing upwards.
  • If you can t tell which side should face up, plant the bulbs on their sides; root action will pull the bulbs into the right position.

Harvesting: Allow all foliage to grow through winter and nourish the plants for next year.

Growing and Harvesting Saffron Crocus

Saffron is a delicious and colorful seasoning that is used in breads, desserts, and main dishes in many parts of the world, from England to India, from the Middle East to Scandinavia, and all around the Mediterranean. Without it, an Indian curry or a Spanish paella just wouldn’t be the same.

The bright red-orange threads you get when you buy saffron are actually the stigmas, or female portion, of the Saffron Crocus flowers. It takes hundreds of flowers to produce a commercially useful amount, which explains why saffron is so expensive. For the home gardener, however, two dozen Saffron Crocus will supply enough of the precious spice in the first year for a few memorable dishes. Then, with each successive year, the corms (which look like bulbs) will multiply, the size of the planting will increase, and you’ll be able to harvest more of the spicy stigmas. After 4 to 6 years, you should divide and replant the corms (do it right after the foliage has faded). Division prevents overcrowding, which can lead to a decrease in flowering.

Planting Saffron Crocus Corms: In areas where Saffron Crocus are reliably hardy—USDA Zone 6 through 8 in the South, 6 through 9 in the West—you should plant the corms as soon as you receive them. Saffron Crocus do best in full sun and well-drained soil that is moderately rich in organic matter. Ideally, the site should be relatively dry in summer, when the corms are dormant.

Plant the corms 4in deep and 4in apart. If gophers, mice, or voles are a problem in your garden, plant the corms in containers or line the bed with hardware cloth or a similar wire mesh. Flowers generally come up 6-8 weeks after planting, although occasionally they wait until the 2nd fall to appear. Bloom lasts about 3 weeks. The grass-like leaves may emerge either with the flowers or soon after they appear. Sometimes they wait until the following spring. In either case, the leaves persist for 8-12 weeks, then wither and vanish, leaving no trace of the corms below until the flowers appear again in fall. It’s not a bad idea to mark the area where you’ve planted your corms, so you don’t inadvertently dig them up while planting something else.

Overwintering Corms in Cold Climates: Saffron Crocus can be grown in areas with colder winters than Zone 6, but the corms must be lifted and brought indoors for the winter. After the first few frosts, but before the ground has frozen solid, carefully dig out the corms, place them in a wooden crate or plastic tub, and completely cover with dry peat moss or sand. Store in a cool (40-50°F), dry place, such as a basement. Plant them out again in the spring after all danger of frost has passed, but don’t water until you see new growth in early autumn.

Another way of growing Saffron Crocus in cold-winter areas is to plant the corms 2 in. deep in clay or plastic pots filled with a well-drained soil mix, and then set the pots directly in the ground, with the rims about 2 inches below the soil surface, so the pots don’t show. After the plants die back in the fall, move the pots into the basement and store them dry for the winter. Set the pots back out the following spring. Again, marking the pots’ location so you don’t accidentally dig into them is probably a good idea.

Harvesting and Using Saffron: Three stigmas are borne in the center of each purple, cup-shaped bloom. The best time to harvest the stigmas is mid-morning on a sunny day when the flowers have fully opened and are still fresh. Carefully pluck the stigmas from the flowers with your fingers, then dry them in a warm place to preserve them for cooking. Store in a closed container. To use saffron, steep the threads in hot liquid (water, broth, or milk, depending on the recipe) for about 20 minutes. Add both the threads and the steeping liquid early in the cooking or baking process, and the threads will continue to release their color and flavor.

American-Grown Saffron Could Change the Spice Trade

Next month, a group of eager farmers will be attending the second annual saffron-growing workshop held at the University of Vermont in Burlington. The goal? Getting the inside scoop on cultivating this storied spice.

The day will include seminars on growing techniques, dealing with pests, and drying and storing—the detailed intel these saffron enthusiasts need to produce a good crop. One of those farmers is Sarah Salatino, owner of Full Circle Gardens in Essex Junction, Vermont. On a sunny day last fall, Full Circle Gardens’ outside raised beds boasted a post-season pop of purple—the petals of the saffron crocus, Salatino’s first crop. Her plants are part of an experiment to discover the best system for producing saffron in New England.

She harvests the plants by pinching the flower off its stem, separates the petals, and then uses a pair of tweezers to separate the yellow stamens from the red-orange stigmas from which the spice originates. Once she lays each part on a paper towel in a tray, she will leave them to dry for a day or two. Figuring out saffron, she said, has come with a steep learning curve.

She sees it as an opportunity to grow something unusual. “People are developing niche like crazy,” she said.

Salatino will send her results to the University of Vermont, home of the North American Center for Saffron Research and Development, which was established in 2015 and hosted its first saffron workshop in March 2017. The goal is to discover the best cultivation method that results in a good crop of high-quality saffron.

The results from this year’s experimental crop hints at the potential for domestically grown U.S. saffron. As a niche, “shoulder-season” crop that can be grown after the fall harvest, and with a high resale value—saffron fetches as much as $29,000 per kilogram (roughly $13,000 per pound)—it could be a boon for small farmers looking for another source of revenue. But all that would require the establishment of a market for premium, locally grown saffron.

From Iran to Vermont

Saffron is a legendary spice that can be traced back to at least ancient Minoan-era Crete (2600BCE to 1100BCE). Some research predicts the global saffron industry will be worth $2 billion by 2025. About 90 percent of the world’s saffron—including most of the 20 tons imported to the U.S. each year—comes from Iran; Spain and Italy are other significant producers.

Its most familiar usage is as a culinary spice; its distinctive aroma, flavor, and bright yellow color are often used in recipes for Spanish paella and Italian risotto and it’s also a classic ingredient in the French fish soup, Bouillabaisse. And saffron is also used as a fabric dye and is reputed to have nutritional and medicinal benefits for ailments including heart disease and depression. But it’s probably best known for its prices: as much as $29,000 per kilogram. Hence its nickname, “red gold.”

Although there’s a history of saffron-growing in the U.S.—the Pennsylvania Dutch have grown it since the 17th century— the practice is not as widespread in this country as it once was.

To bring it back, Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Vermont, decided to launch an experimental saffron project. Originally from Iran, Ghalehgolabbehbahani worked in the saffron industry in his home country, and thought saffron could do well in Vermont, given the similarity of its climate to Iran.

At the University of Vermont lab, researchers are growing saffron in outdoor raised beds and in milk crates in a small hoop house. The milk crates are deep enough for the plant’s root system to develop, and also portable, so that farmers can store the crates out of the way once the brief growing season is finished.

University researchers plant saffron corms in late summer or early fall, which take about a month to flower and are ready for harvest in about six weeks. The plants are relatively pest- and disease-free, although voles love the corms. (Researchers found that lining the bottom of the beds with hardware cloth helps keep them out.)

The Center’s crop yield was five to six times higher in the milk crates, said Margaret Skinner, head of the Saffron Center. That’s better, on average, than the yields in Iran or Spain. Since quality dictates price, they also had chemical analyses done and found the quality of their crop on par with both countries.

Margaret Skinner and Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani. (Photo courtesy of Sally McCay, University of Vermont)

Skinner sees saffron as an appealing crop because the initial investment is low; saffron is relatively easy to grow and a perennial, and it’s scalable, although she encourages farmers to start small. The most laborious task is harvesting. “I think it has potential for a broad array of people,” said Skinner. “It’s not physically taxing and also not that complicated.”

Because the idea is seen as so novel, however, Skinner and Ghalehgolabbehbahani have faced difficulties getting funding for their project. Even so, the University hasn’t had to try hard to convince farmers to participate.

Enthusiastic Farmers Go for the Red Gold

The first saffron-growing workshop that Skinner and team held in March 2017 was at capacity, with 100 attendees, and organizers had to turn 50-plus people away. They came from all over New England, and as far away as California and Louisiana.

“We couldn’t get them to stop talking,” said Skinner. “There was so much enthusiasm in the room it blew me away.”

In 2017, there were at least 30 new growers just in Vermont, and about 300 members on the research center’s listserv, where growers trade info and tips.

Although Full Circle Gardens’ typically grows ornamental plants, Salatino decided to give saffron a try because she was looking for ways to extend her growing season and keep her staff employed. She started with 300 corms in two outdoor raised beds and another 300 in milk crates inside her greenhouse.

At Red Thread Farmstead in Swanton, Vermont, owner Steve Leach took part in the experiment by planting 10,000 corms—manually—in containers for his inaugural saffron crop. They’re in a 21-by-96 foot backyard greenhouse, which he built himself.

Red Thread Farmstead’s saffron beds.

Leach, who works in the plastics industry, chose saffron as part of a second business. He’s also experimenting with growing microgreens in his basement, and sees the two niche crops as complementary.

“I’m focusing on food that is in the top nutritional grade,” he said.

Leach said he underestimated how much work prepping the soil and planting the corms would take—in all, about three and a half weeks. He also quickly realized he’d need to tweak his growing arrangement for the next crop. He planted this year’s corms too close together and in containers too shallow for the their root systems. Next year, he’ll be digging them up and giving them more room.

“I went a bit overboard with my first crocus order,” he said.

At last year’s Saffron Workshop, Ghalehgolabbehbahani detailed how each part of the plant–corms, threads, stamens, and petals—have a market value, and he estimated a possible $28,000 in net revenue per year from a 30-by-90-foot high tunnel. But it will take some work to get there.

Full Circle Farms’ Salatino is a bit disappointed with this year’s harvest—only 54 percent of the inside and less than 50 percent of the outside corms bloomed. Of Red Thread’s 10,000 corms, 3,000 to 4,000 bloomed, yielding about 22 grams of saffron—which has a potential resale value of only a few hundred dollars, depending on quality. Although Skinner and Ghalehgolabbehbahani are still awaiting samples and analyzing the results from other farmers’ samples, Salatino’s yield seems to be around average.

Creating a Market

Even with all those difficulties, growing saffron might be the easier part of the project—creating a market for locally grown saffron could be a bit tougher.

It’s the classic catch-22 of marketing: There has to be enough product for a market, and enough of a market to justify growing the product and supporting local production.

Saffron’s reputation as exotic and expensive is something of a barrier for consumers, though there is small but steady demand for it.

Leach of Red Thread Farm is trying to make his own market with a product line of spices and teas, including a tea that blends saffron with high-grade matcha, and other inexpensive, entry-level products. “I’m pushing people to think out of the box and not just as a spice for rice,” he said.

Despite the low yield of her planting, Salatino of Full Circle Farms thinks there’s potential for a local market because Vermont already has a strong farm-to-table tradition.

Farmworkers collecting saffron in Razavi Khorasan province, Iran. (Photo by Safa Daneshvar)

Chefs and consumers, “like to know that what they’re eating and planting is coming from down the road or up the state,” she said.

That may be a good approach because, as with many valuable products, there have been incidences of counterfeit, mislabeling, and tainted saffron and a locally grown product could offer a measure of reassurance.

Owing to differences in quality and costs of production, one kilogram of Italian saffron costs approximately $29,000, compared with $15,000 for Iranian saffron, making passing off lower-quality saffron for high quality a temptation.

“There’s a lot of monkey business going on,” said Hans Rotteveel, president of Roco Saffron, a wholesaler based in the Netherlands. “A lot of saffron in supermarkets is not really quality saffron or sometimes even fake.”

At the University of Vermont’s lab, Ghalehgolabbehbahani shows the saffron samples from around the world that he and his colleagues have gathered. In Iran, he said, saffron threads are bought whole instead of powdered (which is also a good way to gauge quality), and then ground into a powder with a mortar and pestle. For cooking, the powder is steeped in hot water and then added to a recipe. The Mexican safflower the professor keeps on hand to demonstrate the difference between the two has a distinctly different smell.

U.S. producers have an opportunity to offer a premium, safe product and provide buyers with the reassurance that they’re getting the real deal. Iran will likely remain the biggest saffron producer for the global market, said Rotteveel. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for saffron from farmers like Salatino and Leach.

“Knowing the market in America is this big, American growers can ask a big premium, and maybe ask for Italian prices for locally grown saffron,” he said.

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