Monday, November 21, 2022

Picking Saffron

See those orange threads in the centers of the these flowers? Those orange threads, when separated from the rest of the flower, spread out and dried, are the spice Saffron! It turns out growing Saffron is not that hard. Picking it is a bit different, especially in our yard where it isn't gardening or farming, it is "feeding the deer" far too often. The critters in the forest really love almost everything we plant, so fencing becomes important. Saffron is actually a crocus that flowers in the Fall. These small bulbs are from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean sea, where the Summers are hot and rainless, and the Winters are mild and have some rain. To grow them in California, we plant the bulbs about 4" deep on a well drained sandy slope (thin soil over sandstone). The slope aims west, to the sunsets. There are tall trees to the east, so there is little early sun. There are small shrubs and the ones that do best are right under the driplines of the shrubs. This may be because it is harder for the deer to get their faces into the place to eat the leaves.
They flower in November for us on the San Francisco penninsula, with the leaves coming up with the flowers or just after them. The leaves persist until late Spring, often into early June. Then they want no water at all over the long, hot Summer. This is both a permaculture crop (plant once, harvest many years) and a dryland farming crop. The first commercial Saffron farm in the area is just down by the coast from us. We just grow saffron for our own use. Saffron is a great plant for California as it works on rainfall alone - we do not irrigate our Saffron. In drier years it may not flower as abundantly, though it will still flower.