First Saffron Flowers

This weekend has been one of great excitement …. the anticipation of my much awaited saffron flowers has almost rivaled that of the birth of my first child! Okay, maybe not … but it was very exciting to finally harvest my first saffron threads.

It certainly felt like it’s been just about as long a gestation period leading up to the flowers as my pregnancy! It seemed almost impossible to find any available stock of saffron crocus bulbs in the mail-order catalogues last year, but patiently, I checked on-line every month or so to see when they became available so I could get in before the rest of the world found them.

The similarity to checking for that “thin blue line” positive result on a pregnancy test is striking …. and the disappointment experienced month after month of negative results (can anyone else relate?). But finally, my saffron order was conceived in November and with much delight I read the email sent back to me confirming that my 9 saffron crocus bulbs would be arriving shortly.

My bulbs arrived (albeit overdue!) in good condition and they actually sent out 10 instead of the 9 I ordered – maybe a couple undersized?? Anyway, they all got planted at various spots. I thought this would be a good way of experimenting with microclimates in the garden and seeing which location was the most favorable. A few went in opposite spots in the herb spiral, a couple in a large terracotta pot shared with a tomatillo and one lonely one went in a pot of it’s own.

A few leaves came up about 2 weeks ago, about 3 months after planting and my first 3 flowers have arrived this weekend. Remember it’s now autumn (or fall) here in Australia, in case you’re getting confused.

It’s the stamen of the flower that is so prized. It must be collected straight after the flower opens and then dried before storing in an airtight container. You only get 3 stamens (or threads) per flower and they only flower once a year. This explains why pure saffron is so ridiculously expensive to buy (and my excitement to see my first flowers after nearly a year of seeking, ordering, planting, waiting and watching!)

So I might only get enough to make one meal of saffron rice and curry this year, but if treated well, bulbs will multiply each year.

Saffron really is easy to grow and everyone should give it a try. Make sure you’ve got good friable soil, kept slightly moist while it’s in flower. It takes full sun and prefers a warmer climate than its European cousins. I used premium quality potting mix suitable for growing herbs and veggies for the ones I planted in pots.

Incidentally, it was the bulbs planted in the large terracotta pot with the tomatillo that flowered first. Perhaps it was a little hotter and drier than the other ones. A note I make to myself is not to overwater my plants and rot the bulbs, especially those in the ground.