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Of all of the herbs and spices in the spice aisle at the grocery store, saffron is almost always the most expensive one you can find. Saffron’s high price tag makes it a special occasion spice rather than an everyday spice for many people. But since saffron actually comes from the inside of crocus flowers, it’s possible to grow your own saffron for a much cheaper price than you could ever buy saffron at the store.
I decided to try growing my own saffron last year, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy and simple the process was and by how much more economical it was than buying store bought saffron. Sometimes growing your own food ends up not really being much cheaper than just buying food at the grocery store, but in this case it’s definitely much cheaper.
I bought 15 saffron crocus bulbs that were on sale for $8.49, so that one-time expense of $8.49 will give me saffron threads every year for as long as the crocuses keep on blooming. And since the flowers will gradually spread and multiply, too, the amount of saffron threads I get each year will gradually increase too. This past year I got about 28 saffron threads from my crocuses, and I’m looking forward to seeing how many I’ll get this coming year!
It’s also nice to be able to have complete control over the quality of the saffron, too, because I know exactly where it was grown and how it was grown (organically without any chemicals). And you can’t get any fresher saffron than going out to your yard and picking it by hand yourself!
Where to Find Saffron Crocuses
While you can often find regular spring-blooming crocuses at local garden centers, saffron crocuses are more difficult to find, and your best bet is probably to get them online. You can find them from online garden websites like this one and you can also find them on Amazon.
The one thing you want to make sure of when you’re buying crocuses is that they are the saffron crocus with the botanical name crocus sativus. There’s another type of crocus that also bloom in the fall with the name of colchium and those do not produce saffron threads. So you want to make sure that you see the crocus labeled as a saffron crocus (crocus sativus).
Important Notes About Growing Saffron Crocus Bulbs
Saffron crocuses will grow well for a majority of people, but they might not survive really cold harsh winters. In the United States, they will grow best in garden zones 6-9 (but if you live in zone 5 you might still be able to give them a try.)
It’s also important to note that these aren’t squirrel-proof either, so if you have a problem with squirrels digging up bulbs where you live then they might eat the saffron crocuses too, and you might have to replace the bulbs in that case. Squirrels left my bulbs alone for a couple of years after planting them, but then they dug them up during a really dry summer with a drought, so I’m not sure if it was the drought that made them want to dig them up or if it just took them awhile to discover them.
Either way, if you have a really bad problem with squirrels where you live, then the cost of continuously replacing bulbs could potentially end up negating the cost-saving benefits of growing your own saffron unless you are able to find ways to deter the squirrels from digging up the bulbs.
I’m thinking of possibly trying to plant some saffron crocuses inside a fenced-in part of my garden, maybe even with some netting over the top, for the future to try to help stop the squirrels from getting to them. I had planted my crocuses in a place where they would look nice when they bloomed in the fall, but I think in the future I might need to focus more on protecting them from the squirrels rather than putting them in an aesthetically pleasing area of the yard.
When Should You Plant Your Saffron Crocus Bulbs?
Saffron crocus bulbs will bloom in the fall, and they are usually planted in late summer. My crocus bulbs were shipped to me in August, and I planted them as soon as I got them, and they had blooms by October.
How Many Crocus Bulbs Should You Get?
The number of bulbs that you buy really depends on how much saffron you want to use. The 15 bulbs that I planted produced about 28 threads (something happened to one of my flowers – it either didn’t bloom fully or my dog might have trampled it.) In general you should expect to get 3 saffron threads for each flower that blooms.
So the first year you plant your saffron, you’ll most likely get one flower blooming for each bulb that you plant. So if you plant 15 bulbs like I did and they all bloom, you can expect to get about 30 saffron threads. For me that was enough for my first time trying them since I’m not used to cooking much with saffron, and I don’t mind waiting a few years to get a larger amount.
If you really love using saffron in your cooking, though, you might want to plant more bulbs to begin with so that you can get a larger harvest of saffron threads the first year and beyond.
In this picture below, you can see the red stigmas (which are the saffron threads) coming out of the center of the crocus flowers.
How to Plant and Take Care of Your Saffron Crocus
Planting saffron crocuses really isn’t any different than planting regular crocuses or other types of bulbs. In the steps below, you can see the process that I used to go from crocus bulbs to harvesting my saffron threads.
- Saffron crocus bulbs (crocus sativus)
- Small spade or trowel
- Select a planting location that will get either full sun or partial sun and that has well-draining soil. (You don't want to plant the bulbs in a place where the soil stays damp and soggy for a long time.)
- Using a spade or trowel, loosen the soil where you plan to plant the bulbs to a depth of about 8 inches.
- You can add in some optional compost if you feel like your soil might need the extra nutrients. (I didn't add any compost to my soil and my bulbs still bloomed ok, but if you have poor soil than it might be a good idea to add a bit.)
- Place the bulbs in the soil about 4 inches deep and a couple of inches apart with the pointy end facing up and the roots facing down. (Crocuses can be a bit harder to tell which end is which, so if you're not sure you can just place the bulb on its side, and the flower will eventually find its way up.)
- Fill the hole in the rest of the way with the remaining soil and gently press with your hands to firm it down.
- Give the plants a good watering right after planting. For the first few weeks, you may need to water them occasionally if there is a dry spell without any rain, but it's a good idea to let the soil dry out in between waterings because crocus bulbs will rot if they sit in soil that stays continuously damp. Once the plans are established, you probably won't need to water them unless there is a drought.
- In about 6-10 weeks you should start to see blooms forming, and once the blooms have fully opened, you can harvest the red stigmas in the center of each bloom.
- Once you have harvested the red stigmas, you can either use them immediately in recipes calling for saffron, or you can lay them out on a tray to dry for a few days and save them in a dry place to use later.
- Crocus bulbs don't keep very well, so it's a good idea to plant them as soon as you can after receiving them in the mail.
- Once you've harvested your saffron threads from the flowers and the blooms have started to fade, you can cut back the blooms to ground level, but it's a good idea to leave the green leaves for a few weeks because the plants will continue to gather nutrients for future seasons. Once the leaves have turned yellow and died back, you can cut them down to the ground.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.