The cultivation of saffron can seem a very profitable agricultural practice, because it does not require large material investments and the plant is easily grown in many areas of our peninsula. Added to this is the fact that saffron is a very precious spice, not for nothing is it called red gold, which costs between 15,000 and 20,000 euros per kg.
That’s why starting a cultivation of saffron is an activity that in recent years is finding a growing interest.
However, the yield is not high and, moreover, extracting saffron from stigmas is a long and difficult job, which requires a lot of skill. Think that to get a kg of saffron you have to manually open about 200,000 flowers, which is why this spice is so expensive.
This does not mean that you can not decide to start a cultivation of saffron for a small domestic production, to be able to take advantage of a few grams of the fragrant powder and enjoy the beauty of its flowering.
Saffron: Botanical Characteristics
Saffron is a perennial bulbous plant, of the iridaceous family and native to the Orient, whose scientific name is crocus sativus. The term crocus comes from the Greek kròcos, or thread, for the characteristic thread-like stigmas of the saffron flower, while the common name comes from the Latin safranum, which in turn comes from the Arabic zaʻfarān, which means yellow.
Saffron is a plant with ancient origins dating back to Asia Minor and was also known in India and China. We find traces of it already written in an Egyptian papyrus of the fifteenth century BC and is mentioned in the Bible, in the Song of Songs.
The cultivation of saffron first spread to North Africa by the Arab conquerors and then from here to Europe, through Spain, from the seventh century. In Italy was introduced to the interest of a Dominican friar from Abruzzo, a great lover of agriculture.
Today we can find saffron cultivation all over the center-south of our peninsula, and there is a small DOP production concentrated between Tuscany, Umbria, Sardinia and Marche.
The saffron plant originates from a white bulb of circular shape and flattened appearance, 3-6 cm in diameter, also called corm.
From this, 2 or 3 jets per bulb are generated from the ground, which will then form filiform leaves and, almost simultaneously, a beautiful bell-shaped flower, purple, the only useful part of the plant.
The flower is sterile, does not produce seed, so the plant replicates itself through the new bulbs created by each corm. Each flower contains three red stigmas, 2-3 cm long and known as saffron pistils.
Flower stigmas are the valuable part of saffron and should be harvested one by one by hand with great care, to obtain the famous spice used for cooking or, also, as a natural dye for fabrics.
The cultivation of saffron is not a difficult task, because this plant is quite rustic and resistant. However, care and attention must be taken from the earliest stages of cultivation and especially in the delicate operation of harvesting the pistil.
Whether you have decided to invest in a saffron grove or just want a small domestic production, here are some tips on growing saffron.
Type of Cultivation
Saffron can be grown in annual or multi-year cycles.
- The annual cultivation of saffron requires that each year the bulbs are unearthed and replanted in new soil. Thus, the results are better in terms of yield and quality and the plant is less exposed to pests and diseases, but, on the other hand, the work of explanting is a fairly complex and demanding operation.
- With the multi-year cultivation of saffron, the bulbs are left in the ground for a maximum of 5 years. This technique saves time and effort, but requires more attention in cleaning weeds and is more risky for fungal attacks.
The purchase of the bulbs is a fundamental operation in the beginning of a saffron cultivation.
First of all you have to get good quality saffron bulbs, better organic and not grown in greenhouses, because, even if they are cheaper, those grown in greenhouses are weaker and less productive.